Southern Ute leader resigns; acting chairman named

Tribal Council called for Box to step down or be forced out

Southern Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Matthew Box has resigned from his post, a Tribal Council member confirmed in a brief telephone interview Thursday night.

Tribal Councilor Jimmy Newton has been named by the council to serve as acting chairman.

Tribal Council members received Box’s resignation by e-mail shortly after they planned to present him with a letter calling for his resignation and laying out their concerns.

The Durango Herald obtained a copy of that letter but was not provided a copy of Box’s resignation letter Thursday.

Tribal Councilor Ramona Eagle confirmed his resignation but declined further comment.

Tribe spokeswoman Andrea Taylor said, before Box’s departure, he ordered all tribal employees take an “administrative leave” from their jobs today. “No explanation” for the unexpected holiday was provided, she said.

Box did not return calls to his cell and home phones.

The three-page letter from the Tribal Council to Box outlined the governing body’s concerns. The council cited personnel problems and other alleged abuses that he failed to address or discuss with them.

“In short, we have lost all confidence in your ability to effectively lead our Tribe,” the letter said.

The council asked Box to step down Tuesday, but he told them he wanted it in writing.

The council planned to hand-deliver the letter to Box in an early-afternoon meeting Thursday, but tribal members in attendance said Box didn’t show.

It’s unclear if Box ever received a copy of the correspondence.

The letter and Tribal Council’s request for Box’s resignation came on the heels of numerous allegations levied against him and several key members of tribal leadership and administration in recent weeks and months.

Claims of mismanagement of tribal government and business affairs, misappropriation of funds, secrecy and violations of the tribe’s constitution, governmental and personnel policies have continued to surface.

In an interview with the Pine River Times on Thursday, Box called his critics “agitators” and said they were upset he tried to revamp antiquated policies and procedures, which he said he was trying to change to further the tribe’s autonomy from the federal government.

A petition drive late last year triggered a December recall election, which Box survived.

Meanwhile, co-executive officers Andrew Frost and Johnny Valdez, top administrators for the tribe, recently departed from their posts amid the controversy. Both said in brief telephone interviews that they did not resign, as previously reported. Valdez said Box asked him to leave the executive officer post, and he “respects” Box’s decision. Frost said he was terminated after questioning a decision Box made.

In the Tribal Council’s letter to Box on Thursday, councilors indicated Box failed during his term to “communicate constructively and collaboratively” with them, provided them with “inaccurate, misleading or incomplete information,” and “refused to share even general information about questionable personnel matters.”

“Consequently, we have lost our trust in you,” the Tribal Council wrote.

The letter also indicated there is a “climate of intimidation and fear” among tribal employees.

“We are planning to initiate one or more investigations into those matters where the limited facts at our disposal suggest wrongdoing, and we have been denied access to information,” the letter said.

The letter said it is “unfortunate” the tribe will be forced to incur the expense of the endeavor, but it has become necessary.

“No single event has led to our request for your resignation,” the letter says. “Rather it has been a series of problems over a long period of time ...”

The decision wasn’t “made in haste,” the letter said.

The letter further said that Box’s decision to allow Valdez ongoing access to his office despite being relieved of his duties “has raised suspicions of possible destruction of evidence and a cover-up.”

The letter requested Box’s official resignation by 5 p.m. today or the Tribal Council would “be forced to consider other options.”

hscofield@durango herald.com