Security Increased After Thefts and Attacks in Tribal Offices

Tribal Vice Chairman Ryan Jackson, left, Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten, center, and Councilmember Byron Nelson Jr., right, chatted with other Council and audience members just before Thursday’s meeting. /Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council voted on Thursday, February 20, to keep the keypad locks on doors leading to the Council chambers and Councilmember offices. The locks were installed in January, after a string of thefts, assaults, and at least one death threat.

The Tribe’s Fiscal Department is also scheduled to have a new door and a different locking system installed soon.

Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten described attacks on Fiscal Department employees, a separate attack on Councilmember Diana McCovey-Ferris, and numerous thefts from unlocked offices. “It’s unacceptable behavior and under the personnel policy I’m obligated to keep this place safe.”

“It’s my job as supervisor to come up with a solution, and that’s the solution I came up with,” Vigil-Masten said.

Hoopa Tribal Police have recently responded to a number of incidents in and around the Tribal Offices, including a call where one person who was found searching through desks and files containing tribal members’ confidential information.

Vice Chairman Ryan Jackson and Councilmember Shane McCullough opposed the locks and one tribal member in the audience said, “It seems like a knee-jerk response. Why am I locked out of my own council chambers?”

Jackson said, “I’ve had folks come in and call about the locks on the door. It looks like we’re no longer accessible.”

Vigil-Masten said, “I still do have an open-door policy. It doesn’t mean my door is wide open like a barn and people can just walk in anytime, or I’d never get any work done.”

Under the Tribe’s open-door policy, people can call the Tribal Office to set up an appointment with the Chairperson or their Council representative.

Glenna Starritt, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of K’ima:w Medical Center, said the doors to many offices at the clinic are kept locked. “At first it looks like people are being locked out, but once you understand why it’s being done it makes sense.”

“You usually make rules for the people who overstep the bounds of what you consider to be the norm,” Starritt said.

Councilmember Wendy “Poppy” George said, “Two weeks ago we were informed that a tribal member with mental problems was threatening to come here and shoot all of us.”

That threat seemed to loom larger in Council members’ minds when they heard the news of the shootings in Alturas later on, during a break in the meeting.

According to news reports from Alturas, California, a former tribal leader of the Cedarville Rancheria – Sherrie Rhoades – shot six tribal members during a hearing to evict her from her home.

Rhoades kept shooting until she ran out of ammunition and then continued the attack with a butcher knife.

Alturas City Clerk Cary Baker said Rhoades’ 19-year-old niece, Angel Moonstar Penn, Rhoades’ 30-year-old nephew, Glenn Phillip Calonico, Rhoades’ 50-year-old brother, Rurik Daniel Davis, and Sheila Lynn Russo, 47, were all killed in the attack.

George said, “Gosh that is so sad. The 19-year-old who was killed has a five-day-old baby.”

The Council voted 5-2 to keep the keypad locks at the Tribal Offices in the Neighborhood Facilities (NF) Building, but pushed back the vote on two measures on the Recreation Department reorganization until the March 6 meeting.

The Recreation Department is undergoing a reorganization process while a new director is selected, a new round of background checks are completed for all department employees, and the Youth Center undergoes construction work.

McCullough told the TRT that “the area needs to be remodeled, cleaned up, and made safe for kids.”

George wrote a column that appeared in the February 18 issue of the TRT, which said the restructuring would help “install a chain-of-command system within the program,” and recommended adding additional positions and clearly dividing staff between the Recreation Department and the Youth Center.

Jackson put two Recreation items on the agenda. One called for the transfer of all current Recreation employees into the same positions under the new reorganization plan while keeping them all in full-time status, and the other called for the Recreation reorganization plan to go through the public LPA process.

Vigil-Masten said, “We’ve referred those items to our attorney to have him review them before the next meeting.”

The Council approved the purchase of a security camera system using 10 dome cameras for the NF Building, and a separate 16-channel camera security system that will be installed in the Youth Center.

The Council also approved the purchase of a repeater and encryption system for the Hoopa Tribal Police, along with outfitting two new police vehicles with lights and cages and the installation of surveillance equipment, telephones and a warning siren in the new Police Station.

Attorney Jeremy Patterson, representing Fredericks, Peebles & Morgan LLP, gave a short presentation on two issues that his group is working on for the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

“We were brought in to look at a complete solution to a lot of the ongoing water issues,” Patterson said, “to ensure that you’d have an enforceable and adjudicated right to a permanent priority over the water.”

Patterson’s law firm is also working on a proposal to secure land for the Tribe under a provision of the Cobell Settlement which set aside over $1 billion for U.S. tribes to buy back land with fractionated ownership (parcels of land with dozens or hundreds of family members listed on the deeds).

Locally the project would create three new jobs in the first phase. The new employees would locate and contact land owners. More people would be hired in the following phases.

Angie Latis, with the California Statewide Wood Energy Team, asked the Council to work with her group in sharing pre-feasibility studies and applying for grants to start wood energy production.

“This area is so perfect for biomass energy development; if it can’t work here, it can’t work anywhere,” Latis said.

George said, “We’re currently in the process of creating a pellet mill, so we can use all of our scraps instead of burning them.”

Pellets mills take wood scraps from land clearing or lumber operations, remove all of the moisture, and compress the waste into pellets that can be burned in power plants to generate electricity.

Vigil-Masten invited Latis to the March 5 planning meeting with the Forestry Department and added, “We want to look at an operating plant and see and smell what it looks like when it’s operating.”

K’ima:w Medical Center is redesigning the decals for the ambulances, after a proposal was pushed forward by Nelson.

Nelson said, “The decal on the side of the ambulance should be changed to show that it’s an entity of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.”

The Council voted unanimously to amend Title 30 – the Tribe’s personnel policies and procedures – to include a social media policy. The proposed changes will go through the LPA process with public meetings before it goes into effect.

George said, “We have a lot of employees playing on Facebook when they’re supposed to be working and I want that cleaned up.”

Before going into closed executive session, the Council recognized tribal member Meagen Baldy for her popular YouTube cooking show, Cooking Healthy in Indian Country.

Vigil-Masten said, “Let’s have a round of applause for Meagen. She just made Indian Country Today for her awesome cooking show.”

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March 12th, 2014

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