ANADARKO, Okla. - One vote in a general election six years ago placed Kerry Holton at the helm of the Delaware Nation. Four votes in an executive committee meeting on June 21 removed Holton from that president position.
“The same EC (executive committee) members that voted down an audit of the AmEx card will go to any length to prevent an independent review of Delaware Nation Developers. I will probably be removed from office today because I am trying to bring this to light,” Holton stated on his Facebook page June 21.
Holton stated he informed the Delaware Nation Executive Committee on June 19; the American Express card program had “gross deficiencies and lacked accountability.”
Holton states he made a motion for a forensic audit of the American Express card program, however the motion failed. He also recommended an audit of Delaware Nation Developers LLC and Peacock Construction LLC. Peacock Construction is owned and operated by Delaware Nation Treasurer Clifford Peacock.
He states an illegal executive committee meeting was held on June 21 for the purpose of his removal despite there being no removal ordinance within the tribes’ constitution. He stated on his blog, http://www.ChiefHolton.Wordpress.com, the charges against him are fabricated, and he was deemed guilty without due process.
“The truth will continue to come out. The responsible will be held accountable and transparency with integrity will be fully restored!” Holton stated.
On June 17, the Delaware Nation re-elected three incumbents to the executive committee: C.J. Watkins as vice president, Leslie Taylor as secretary and Leonard “Bud” Keechi as committeeman. No protests were filed and the incumbents were sworn back into office June 27, Delaware Nation Election Committee Chairman Richard Hunter said.
Earlier in the year, Holton used his Facebook page to support Jason Pruner, Taylor and Keechi in the June election. Pruner was one of Watkins’ opponents for the vice-president seat.
The Holton Administration, Election Commissions
Before Holton’s election in December 2006, some tribal members felt the executive committee at that time were already advocating for his win.
Tribal citizen Mike Watkins served on the election committee in 2006 and said the executive committee wanted to remove the ordinance rule stating candidates must live in a 100 mile radius of tribal headquarters.
“We told them we weren’t going to change it. If they were going to change it, they should do it, and they did,” Watkins said. “Kerry Holton took office by one vote. So their mission, in my opinion, was complete by changing that ordinance to allow an out-of-state tribal member to come in and become president of the tribe.”
Lawrence Snake, who was treasurer in 2006, said ever since that executive committee amended the election ordinance there has, “been a lot of little things they’ve done without anybody else’s approval; without going to general council.”
Holton, who was living in Georgia, also credits the change in the 100 mile radius law to his victory.
“My constitution said four things to qualify for office. It said: you must be a member, you must be 21, you must not be indebted to the tribe, and you can’t be a felon. Well it doesn’t say anything about where I live,” Holton said. “The only thing that I was doing … was just exercising my right to run for office. I feel that there’s a wrong done by trying to exclude people according to where they live.”
Holton won and filled the remaining term for the late Edgar French. The next year, in June 2007, Holton protested the election because the election board began picking up ballots from the post office and opening them as soon as they received them instead of waiting until Election Day as the election ordinance specifies. He said he and Taylor went to watch the counting of the ballots and were told the ballots were being opened for months and were being stored in someone’s truck.
“I filed a protest with them and it had seven things that were a violation of the election ordinance, but primarily the fact that the absentee ballots had been spoiled,” Holton said. “Unfortunately, it’s the election committee that deems whether my protest is valid or not, and they returned a verdict that they didn’t feel like they did anything wrong.”
Holton said his attorney advised him the newly elected officials would not be in office until he recognized them at a duly called meeting. Therefore, he only acknowledged the already seated executive committee.
One of the newly elected officials Holton didn’t recognize was Mary French-Smith, who won the vice-president seat.
“We went in and had three meetings … then they filed a cease and desist,” she said. “They … said we were wrong in doing what we did so therefore we owed $450 because that was the meeting fee we collected.”
Eventually the CFR court recognized Holton’s protest as valid and called for a new election, he said. However, it took two years to sort things out and a new election wasn’t held until 2009.
Holton said the 2009 election wasn’t nullified, the election ordinance wasn’t violated, the courts deemed it was a properly held election, and the individuals that won in that election could be seated. The opposition, however, continues to wait for justice in that election.
“Kerry Holton was actually beat in 2009, but because he protested he was allowed to stay in office until a new election was done,” Matthew Watkins said. “I beat Kerry Holton 145 to 108.”
The election committee posted an official notice announcing Watkins as president, Mary French-Smith as treasurer and Susan Obe as committee member for the 2009 general election. The results were challenged by Holton, Peacock and Sue Hawpe. Their claim was Watkins, French-Smith and Obe sent “pre-marked absentee ballots” and stamped return envelopes to voters.
Watkins, French-Smith and Obe also received a July 7, 2009 letter from Taylor stating both the election and executive committee invalidated the 2009 election results. What followed on Dec. 29, 2009 was Delaware Nation resolution No. 09-117, which stated Watkins and his fellow candidates admitted to sending pre-marked ballots and stamped envelopes therefore the executive committee deemed the costs of the 2009 election, “be taxed to Matthew Watkins, Mary French-Smith, and Susan Obe, jointly and severally, in the amount of $23,109.43, for and that such shall be considered an indebtedness to the tribe until the same is paid in full to the Delaware Nation.”
“Basically we just see a board that refuses to leave; bottom line. They control … our ordinances, tribal justice system,” Watkins said. “What we have is a rouge board that doesn’t want to pay attention to the voters, the election count, and basically they’re staying in office by doing that. That’s the only way they can stay afloat is by challenging our own rules.”
Tribal member Judith DeLaRosa agrees and said, “The present executive committee that is elected with the Delaware tribe seems to act in a way that they do not pay heed to our tribal constitution, and when they do come out with a reasoning, they twist it and bend it and give you not a very truthful explanation of what they’re trying to accomplish.”
The CFR court granted a new election in an April 6, 2010 decision, but an appeal was filed and it was ruled on Jan. 14, 2011 the tribe never granted jurisdiction to the courts to adjudicate any election disputes. The other option Watkins had was to appeal the election decision to the tribe’s executive committee, which was made up of the candidates who allegedly lost the election in question.
Watkins said a sample ballot was mailed to voters and not a pre-marked ballot. As for the stamped envelopes, he said, “All we did was help out our tribal members by helping them out with a stamp.”
“We had garage sales and we made quite a bit of money to send people envelopes when I was running,” French-Smith said.
French-Smith’s brother, the late Edgar French, always told her an election is the one time “you want your tribe to participate so do everything you can.” That’s why she sent out stamped envelopes, she said.
The Delaware Nation Constitution states elections shall be held bi-annually in odd-numbered years. The disputes and lack of special election procedures in the election ordinance hindered with the election rules, Holton said.
“ It wasn’t until last year, 2011, that we got all of that rectified again and got to an election where I was elected … it would be my first term because of the previous term I was just filling in,” Holton said.
Holton said this term would be two years instead of four since the election should’ve taken place in 2009. He said his opposing candidate, Lawrence Snake, was deemed indebted to the tribe and could not run for office so he won by default.
Snake was still listed on the ballot. Snake said he was originally accepted as a candidate, and contends his votes were never counted. Native Times requested the official tally from Holton in April; however as of press time the official results were not received.
“He did get a few votes, but I still would have won hands down, even if he would have been allowed to run,” Holton said. “I don’t remember what the count was; I want to say it was 120 to 62, something like that. It was about twice as many votes.”
Snake said he and three other people received a letter in April 2005 stating they were not eligible to run for office since they owe money to the tribe according to a past resolution.
“We sat on a bank board before and as a board you’re not supposed to be held liable for anything that happens as a board … One of the former executive committees went ahead and did a resolution that claimed we owed money so therefore they decided they weren’t going to count any of our votes,” Snake said. “We filed an appeal … They (election committee) wrote us a letter … upholding their own decision. They told us that if we wanted to appeal it, we can. We have to go to the executive committee, and the executive committee is the one who sent the letter in the first place, so we thought, well this is useless.”
Resolution, No. 05-89, states since the Lenape Bank was not a success, was forced to close and attorney fees were owed, so “payments totaling at least $54,052.05, are the responsibility of the Lenape Bank Board members and not the Delaware Nation …” The $13,000.00 IRS fees also became the responsibility of the former bank board.
Roberta Rafferty, who was also approved then disqualified from the 2011 election because she served on the Bank Board, has a signed April 25, 2005 letter from the previous election committee lead by Evelyn Kionute stating, “Based on there being no actual evidence or proof of indebtedness provided to the election board in regards to this matter, the Delaware Nation General Election Board did not determine any of the individuals listed, as indebted to the tribe ...”
Rafferty also has an April 27, 2011 letter from the election committee stating she was an eligible candidate. Then she read page 8 of the June 2011 Delaware Nation newsletter where a new election committee published a letter stating former Bank Board members were indebted to the tribe and were removed from the ballot. The documentation she has from the tribe both support and deny her bid for office.
“I think it’s very unfair the way they’re treating tribal members and those that want to run. I think they’re interfering with our civil rights, not letting us run for office on a basis that’s not fact,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty said her and Snake presented the 2005 letter stating their eligibility to the present election committee, but were told the letter “didn’t count” and the resolution declaring their debts is valid.
Snake, who served as Delaware Nation president from 1994 to 2001, claims the new election committee is accepting old resolutions of people being indebted despite attorneys and judges saying they cannot do that, and the executive committee is “showing a pattern of getting beat but not letting the others get seated.”
Matthew Watkins agrees and said the executive committee is, “staying on board because they keep protesting each election. It’s like the election board is a net ... There (had) been no democratic change at the Delaware tribe in over five years; no new officers.”
Tribal business continues
Holton said his removal is a violation of his civil and constitutional rights and he has done nothing wrong.
“The quorum of violators obviously believes they have effectively removed the President. That is not the case and I continue to represent the Delaware Nation as the duly elected President,” Holton stated on his blog. “I have engaged a number of agencies for an investigation and independent audit of the Delaware Nations American Express card that has been used in an unlawful manner with Delaware Nation Developers being secretly used as a shell company for Peacock Construction to earn a profit from tribal monies.”
Holton has also taken issue with the tribe’s treasurer who he said did not provide a financial statement to tribal citizens during the annual general council meeting in June. Holton is no longer physically working at the Delaware Nation tribal headquarters.
The Delaware Nation opened a new casino in Hinton, Okla. this month.
Native Times left numerous messages and emails with Neawa Horn, the tribes’ executive assistant, for Holton and/or Cleanan J. (C.J.) Watkins to respond to the allegations. In addition, Native Times also tried to reach Leslie Taylor, the executive committee secretary. However, the only person who responded was Diane Butler who said, “We don’t have any comment at this time.” Butler said she was a tribal employee but did not have a job title. Butler is listed as the tribal administrator assistant in a recent newsletter. Horn and Taylor did not respond to messages regarding Butlers’ statement.