Effort to recall Southern Ute chairman fails

Vote total falls short of threshold for valid election to oust chairman

A push to oust Southern Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Matthew Box has failed after too few members voted in a special recall election.

“I only ask creation for strength and good blessings for all who supported me and those who didn’t,” Box said in a written statement to the Herald. “Together, we are still one; the great nation of the Southern Ute Tribe.”

Official results released Monday by Tribal Information Officer Andrea Taylor showed 269 people cast ballots in person in Friday’s election and another 39 voted by absentee ballot. This is 115 votes shy of the necessary number for the election to be valid.

Under the tribe’s Constitution, more than half of the tribe’s 844 registered members would have had to vote for the election to be binding.

The votes for and against recalling Box were not tallied, Taylor said.

A group of tribal members petitioned for the recall election based on accusations of mismanagement and wrongdoing by Box and his appointed executive officer, Johnny Valdez.

Many of the accusations surrounded recent staffing changes at the tribe’s health clinic and human resources department and the elimination of the tribe’s employment ethics policy.

The group also called for an audit of the tribe’s business dealings and cited a lack of transparency in their government.

Box has denied the allegations and said his office is open to tribal members who want clarification on recent leadership decisions.

He encouraged his supporters to refrain from voting.

Box’s opponents gathered enough signatures to trigger the election but failed to get the turnout they needed to succeed in removing him.

Rick Jefferson, one of several tribal members who led the recall petition effort, expressed disappointment about the outcome but said he and others will continue to push for changes to the tribe’s leadership and business practices.

A few former tribal employees have threatened to file civil lawsuits over the tribe’s employment practices. And opponents are turning their attention to next year’s elections.

“Now we’ll focus on getting (tribal leadership) changes in the next regular election,” Jefferson said.

Box was elected chairman after prevailing in a runoff election against Howard D. Richards Sr. in 2008. His term ends November 2011, Taylor said.

hscofield@durangoherald.com