I have received several requests to write something about the retreat of the Colville Business Council held in October 2018 as well as the recent ethics charges against Andrea George. I will also provide information of the events leading up the special session on Thursday February 21, 2019, which upheld the Rules Committee recommendation to expel Councilwoman Andrea George.
Many problems began right after the swearing in of the new council. As the new Chairman of the Colville Business Council I began receiving verbal complaints from several council members and our membership of live stream recording at district meetings without permission or disclosure; suspicion of both open and closed council sessions being recorded and photographed; breaching of confidential information of closed sessions; mis-leading, defamatory and dishonest comments made of council and employees recorded at district meetings and stated in Facebook posts; and a councilperson making a public comment prior to full council taking a formal position on a legislative matter (a tribal leader and attorney representing another tribe asked the Colville Tribes to clarify our position).
I asked our Council to attend a retreat in Spokane In October to discuss the Council’s Code of Professional Responsibility and to have an open discussion to address these many issues. Prior to this meeting I drafted a document which addressed many of these issues for discussion and possible revision of our current code. I can provide a copy of this document for anyone interested. I also asked two of our Staff Assistants to attend in the event Council made any administrative requests for anything. I also asked Alice Koskela to provide a history of previous council ethical debates. I was especially interested in reading a memorandum drafted by Dale Kohler regarding Council Ethics and his recommendations. He was a former councilmember and attorney. I found this historical overview and Dale’s memorandum very insightful. After reviewing my draft document and the information provided by Alice, I opened the floor and allowed everyone to openly air their issues. I asked for everyone to refrain from making any personal attacks. At our conclusion, I believe that everyone agreed that our Council’s Code of Professional Responsibility needs to be revised. I have recently spoken with the Rules Committee Chair to address revising this Code in committee. I also asked everyone to refrain from publicly discussing this session as a form of professional respect with the hopes that we could address our issues and move forward in a positive direction.
Many of these identified issues continue.
As the Council Chair, I received a complaint from a tribal employee against Andrea George. Other councilmembers stated that I should deal with this complaint in the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is comprised of the Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary and each reservation district must have a representative. I sent an email message to tribal council stating that I reviewed our Constitution, the Council’s Code of Professional Responsibility and the resolution that identifies the responsibilities of the Executive Committee. I also stated that the Executive Committee does not have the responsibility or authority to address the action of a member of council. I convened an Executive Committee meeting and the Committee recommended to forward this complaint to the Rules Committee, who has this responsibility. A letter was drafted, and I signed this letter on behalf of the Executive Committee. I read this letter out at the next Special Session. The letter was not submitted as an ethics complaint; however, the referral was made for the Rules Committee Chair’s consideration. The employee who submitted this complaint stated within the complaint: “It is a very sad day when employees feel threatened, intimidated and scared to do their jobs”.
Prior to convening the Executive Committee, I sent an email message to the entire council, which in part state: “It is my personal opinion that Ethics Charges take a considerable amount of time and resources to address. These actions also create a highly stressful work environment for Council and the staff who closely works with us. There are so many other issues that we need to work on, and I hope that all members of council seriously take this into consideration when they file ethics complaints. It is also my opinion that these actions are a waste of valuable time. Let’s move through this, treat each other with professional respect and prioritize issues beneficial for our tribal government and membership.”
The Rules Committee Chair decided to have this complaint investigated. A recommendation was brought to the full council to contract with an outside attorney to conduct this investigation. The investigation included interviews of relevant Colville Tribal staff who were present or heard the exchanges that took place. This report identified three violations of the Tribal Constitution and the Council’s Code of Professional Responsibility. In a statement made by the Colville Confederated Rules Committee, it states:
“On Sept. 24, 2018 Councilwoman Andrea George confronted a witness subpoenaed to testify on a hearing before the Rules Committee, which concerned Ms. George, and attempted to get the witness to not testify or otherwise not provide the full truth in her testimony.
Based on this , Councilman Marvin Kheel filed an ethics complaint under CTC§1-8-30 (a) alleging that Ms. George’s conduct was unethical as it constituted: (1)undue influence under CTC§1-8-20(b)(2) by using it attempting to use improper means to influence the proceeding before the Rules Committee; (2) violated the constitution as a commission of gross misconduct in office under CTC§8-1-20(d)(2); and (3) violated the constitution as a commission of malfeasance in office under CTC§1-8-20(d)(3).
An Investigative Hearing was held on February 1, 2019, and the Rules Committee found that Ms. George had attempted to intimidate a witness and passed a recommendation sheet that she be expelled.”
Subsequently, the recommendation was read out at Special Session on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2018 and with an 8-6 vote which upheld the Rules Committee recommendation to expel Ms. George.
Ms. George has asked to waive confidentiality. However, it states under CTC § 1-8-9 Advisory Opinions (a) In all written requests for advice and a reply, the identities of all persons mentioned are confidential and shall not be made public, unless done so by the requestor. Additionally, under CTC § 1-8-30 Complaints (e) Rules Committee investigations shall be closed to all persons other than the Committee members, a recording secretary and attorney, if requested, and those individuals orally requested or subpoenaed to provide testimony. Ethics proceedings have always been confidential.
Confidentiality in part, is respective of witnesses who provide testimony for their protection from retaliation. During the investigation, witness identities were implicated and some commented that they suffered verbal confrontations from individuals external to the investigations.
Andrea George has made statements that the tribal employee’s complaint of her nor the letter forwarding the complaint to the Rules Committee was not signed under oath. This is because the initial complaint was not submitted as an ethics complaint.
The video surveillance was taken into consideration by the investigative attorney.
It was decided by the Executive Committee to submit the initial complaint to the Rules Committee Chair for consideration. This letter did not make any recommendations for ethical charges to the Rules Committee. This was not a single Council directive made by myself, I carried out the decision of the Executive Committee.
Additionally, the Executive Committee met on February 7th, after Council received reports from multiple tribal staff of their concerns of feeling threatened and unsafe in their working environments. There weren’t any scheduled council committee meetings or full council sessions scheduled within a reasonable time and as an emergency action, it was decided to address this issue immediately and to place Andrea George on Administrative Leave.
Members of Council did not make any public statements during the investigative phase because much of this information was to be held confidential. We received numerous requests to release the investigative report and other documents. However, it states under CTC § 1-8-9 Advisory Opinions (g) Periodically, a summary of an advisory opinion may be published after making sufficient alterations to prevent the identification of all persons mentioned and shall be used as a guide for the Rules Committee in future matters. Therefore, we could not release these documents or breech confidentiality by discussing this case publicly.
It has also been stated that the Chairman should not have voted on Andrea’s ethics charges. Prior to the Special Session held on February 21, 2019, I asked two questions of our legal representation. First, I asked if the Rules Committee or any individual member of this committee did not follow the ethics procedures identified in the Council’s Code of Professional Responsibility, I was told no, the process was followed. I also asked for legal advice regarding the Chairman voting. I received a written response that there is precedence for the Chairman to vote in a matter such as this. I felt that it was my responsibility and duty to vote. The evening prior, I reread the Tribes Constitution, the Council’s Code of Professional Responsibility and my Oath of Office. Based on the investigative reports, the investigative hearing and witness testimonies, I chose to vote in favor of upholding the Rules Committee recommendation of the ethics charges against Andrea George. I deliberated this decision for a long time and considered the responsibilities that I accepted as an elected official of the Colville Tribe. Each member of Tribal Council took an oath of office which states in part: “that I will work for the best interests of the Confederated Tribes and its members in all matters at all times without prejudice and partiality”. Unfortunately, much of this information is held confidential and cannot be disclosed for public consideration.
In comparison, Improper influence, Gross Misconduct and Malfeasance can be serious charges in both the federal and state governments. I did my own research to review how similar issues are handled both at the Federal and State level. For the United States, express prohibitions against tampering with witnesses and parties is contained in 18 U.S.C. 1512 - Tampering with Victims, Witnesses, and Or Informants and depending on the circumstances of the case, can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. For the State of Washington, tampering with a witness is contained in RCW 9A.72.120 and can be a class C felony.
I know there are many who are angry of the Councils decision and I didn’t expect anything less. Times have been very difficult, and I have done everything that I can to move our Council and Tribal Government in a positive direction. We have many good employees and our tribe has made some significant strides, especially with federal and state legislative issues and I will make future reports of these objectives. I pray for better times ahead for all of us.