This story was originally published in the Rio Grande SUN on Aug. 16, 2018.

Jicarilla Apache Nation Comptroller Chad Eaton is out.

Nation Vice President Edward Velarde made the announcement Aug. 14 to a packed audience at an emergency Legislative Council meeting.

He said a termination letter was being drafted and that he would sign it. 

“I hear what you (the audience) guys are saying,” he said. “I hear what you need.”

Although Velarde made this announcement, no immediate action was taken to impeach Councilor Sherryl Vigil nor President Levi Pesata.

Vigil is Eaton’s mother.

Pesata was absent from the meeting and Velarde was acting president.

Eaton was the subject of a forensic audit, released in November 2017. According to the audit, during his time as chief executive operator of the Apache Nugget Travel Center and Casino, he embezzled money and caused a cash loss of more than $1 million.

Eaton quit in 2016.

Pesata chose him to be the Nation’s comptroller in 2017.

Bernice Muskrat, along with her daughter Jennifer Muskrat and other tribal members, have been collecting signatures on three petitions, since July.

The first petition called for the termination of Eaton. The others called for the ouster of Pesata and Vigil from the Council.

The community originally presented the petitions to the Legislative Council Aug. 2 but the Council failed to reach a quorum.

They attempted to meet with the Council again the following week, but again, a quorum was not reached.

A Legislative subpoena was issued Aug. 10 for Council members William Muniz, Shane Valdez, Ronald Julian and William Julian Jr., to report to a Constitutional meeting, 9 a.m., Aug. 14 at the Council Chambers.

William Julian Jr., Ronald Julian and Muniz did not attend the meeting.

Won’t oust Pesata

Bernice Muskrat presented the Council members who were present with a draft resolution calling for the removal of the members for failing to follow the subpoena.

Although Velarde used his executive powers to terminate Eaton, the Muskrats, along with other members of the audience, questioned why the Council followed some rules, but not others. 

“Legislative bodies have the power of subpoena,” she said to the packed room. “If one of you didn’t show up for court, would they forgive you for not being there? That is what we are asking the Legislature to do. The Legislature, Shane Valdez, Leon Reval, Lillian Veneno, Adrian Notsinneh,  Mr. Vice President, now acting president of the Jicarilla nation, we respectfully beg you to take this resolution and issue it so that the people that are sitting there can constitute a quorum of the Legislature.”

This would then allow for the declaration for a special election of the vacant seats.

Velarde and the Council members refused to pass the resolution.

“You all have the power,” Jennifer Muskrat said to the Council. “We are behind you. We are with you. We the people, have spoken and it is very clear.”

Bernice Muskrat asked everyone in the audience who supported the action to stand up. Although everyone rose, no action was taken.

Velarde said they had to follow the Nation’s constitution and ensure that any actions they take are legal. 

Compromise

After nearly four hours, the Council reached a compromise with the Muskrats and others in the audience.

Velarde issued a second Legislative subpoena for the members who did not attend the meeting to appear at the Council Chamber the following day, Aug. 15.

“We will be continuing to collect signatures,” Jennifer Muskrat told the audience at the end of the meeting. “This is very apparent what they are doing. The idea that we are losing our political and Constitutional rights is ever more apparent in the fact that they do not come and seat themselves. So let’s keep that momentum strong.”

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