Despite claims from members calling for a recall vote for Penticton Indian Band chief and council, the band says there is no legal basis for the calls.
The issue has grown public for weeks, particularly after a band meeting was cancelled after disrupters held the meeting up, demanding a recall vote.
The band has also lost five of its councillors, just leaving Chief Chad Eneas and three others to run the show, with two of those councillors now subject of a lawsuit filed by the band on Thursday.
In that lawsuit, the band alleges six former councillors have refused to pass on their shares in the Penticton Indian Band Development Corporation to the chief, who is expected to hold onto council’s shares while the community considers a different structure for shareholders.
Beyond the lawsuit, the PIB has come out swinging with a news release on Friday, referring to “issues brought forward by some community members for their own personal interests and motives.”
“There is a small group of community members who are dissatisfied with the new direction of chief and council and are perpetuating misleading information, which has been published in the media,” the news release said, adding chief and council have reviewed policies “which have highlighted some of the issues plaguing the community.”
“The chief and council have worked diligently throughout this turmoil, supporting the hiring (of) a human resources manager, a civil engineer and a new band administrator.”
The release also took aim at the former councillors and former chief Jonathan Kruger who are subject to the lawsuit by the band.
“It is very contradictory for an individual that purports one’s self as the spokesperson of a special interest group to be in direct violation of their former council fiduciary duties,” the statement said.
“A matter that now has to be litigated because some former councillors will not transfer shares of band business that are held in trust on behalf of the membership, which comes at great cost to own source revenues earned by PIB entities.”
The news release also notes those five councillor positions need to be filled “through a fair process.” The band says they are hiring a third party to oversee that process, with hopes to resolve the issue.
“The current Custom Election Code is ambiguous at best and is being used to slant positions and misrepresent the band governance direction,” the statement said. “This code, which has some community members believing they have the authority to recall the council, or that the current council (does) not have a legal quorum are positions that are untrue.”
The band said it has received two separate legal opinions that have reinforced its position that Eneas is safe in his place as chief, and the band has enough council members to govern.
In one, Jeanie Lanine of Cedar Law notes the ability to recall a chief or councillor, but does not provide any procedure for sparking that vote
“To permit 15 members to compel a vote for non-confidence for alleged conduct reasons without consideration as to the merits of the information presented appears to have both procedural fairness issues and creates an opportunity for a small minority of disgruntled members to create significant expense and disruption to PIB,” Lanine wrote.
On quorum, another lawyer, identified only as Dana in PIB documents, wrote that the Indian Act does not apply to customary councils such as PIB’s. And though the PIB’s own regulations require one chief and not less than four councillors, that, Dana wrote, is not being contravened.
“Simply stated, this means that the minimum number of councillors that can be elected is four,” she wrote. “It does not state that four have to continuously preside as councillors for the continuous governance or functionality of the PIB.”
The statement points to a Sept. 20 information for the community, distributed to media on Friday, which details the band’s position on recall and the legitimacy of the current chief and council.
That document points to the disruptions of an Aug. 2 meeting to determine a by-election date “towards their own personal agenda, in direct contravention of the by-election, only resulting in further resignations and unnecessary cost.”
Due to the controversy, the document notes the electoral officer and deputy electoral officer will be replaced by a third party contractor.
“This is not a reflection of the past work of our own community members who have sacrificed so much to provide the community with a service,” it says. “This action is to remove any ‘appearance’ of a perceived bias in hopes that we can move towards a full council table and the continuance of governing duty.”
According to the document, a nomination meeting will be held on Oct. 11, with candidate forums on Oct. 18 and 25, followed by advanced voting on Nov. 18 and regular voting day and ballot count on Nov. 22.
“The chief and council have heard the concerns of all community members, not just those who are having difficulty adjusting to the new governance table.”