Hopi Council removes Felter as Council secretary

Hearing held to remove Mary A. Felter for multiple violations of Hopi Constitution

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - In a final vote of 10 in favor, 5 against, the Hopi Tribal Council on June 30 formally removed Mary A. Felter, Hopi Council secretary, from office in a public hearing that lasted just over two hours. The hearing resulted from a series of charges made against Felter alleging that she had violated certain provisions of the Hopi Tribal Constitution.

The seven constitutional violations presented by Special Prosecutor Gary LaRance for the Felter hearing included: violation of a court ordered restraining order; calling special meetings of the Hopi Council without prior approval or concurrence of the Hopi Chairman; engaging in conduct outside and beyond the scope of her authority; bribing a former tribal prosecutor in exchange for dismissing criminal charges against her son; contributing to the unlawful removal of an associate Hopi Appellate court judge; improperly obtaining a legal opinion from the Hopi Tribe's general counsel; and misusing tribal funds while attending meetings not associated with her formal duties as tribal secretary.

Felter had worked for the Hopi Tribe for a total of eight years in her capacity as council secretary. She had made an unsuccessful run for Hopi Vice Chairman prior to her removal.

The Hopi Constitution requires that a two-thirds majority vote be established for any council official to be removed from office. The Wednesday morning vote fulfilled that required number.

Special Presiding Judge Carey Vicenti of the Jicarilla Apache Nation served as the presiding judge providing oversight facilitation of the hearing for the Hopi Council.

Vicenti, who is a presiding judge at his own reservation has also served as Chief Justice on the Chippewa, Yavapai Apache and Mississippi Choctaw reservations. He is a former teacher who also served as a federal judge specializing in American Indian law.

He is currently serving as the Chair for the Department of Sociology at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

Vicente carefully explained and walked the Hopi Council through the hearing process, helping to interpret the varied options that they could take in addressing Felter's violations.

Felter did not appear in person for the hearing. She instead wrote a letter that was hand-delivered by Bacavi village representative Velma Kelyesva and was read into record.

Felter stated in her letter to the Hopi Tribal Council that she was "refusing and not willing to participate in this hearing," citing her dissatisfaction with LaRance as the special prosecutor, her dissatisfaction with the current Sipaulovi representatives, her concern that former appointed First Mesa representatives were not on the council, and finally that she was not afforded enough time to prepare for the hearing.

She also stated that she felt the current Hopi Council was not a "legitimate body" to determine her fate. Felter also said in her letter that she was only served the hearing materials on June 21, giving her only eight full working days to obtain an appropriate attorney.

But one of the sponsoring resolution and action item authors, Upper Moencopi Representative Leroy Sumatzkuku, told the council and audience that Felter had more than enough time to prepare, since the formal village request was made in March and that she was notified during the March council session that they wanted her voluntary resignation by the end of that month or they would proceed with a formal removal process.

Vicente then explained to the council that they had the option granting Felter's request of postponing her hearing to a later date. However, a majority vote taken by the Council after much heated discussion determined that the hearing would continue.

Vicente informed the council that due to Felter's refusal to appear in person and for non-acceptance of the special prosecutor and those on the Hopi Council, she waived all of her rights, thereby admitting guilt by default.

Special prosecutor LaRance had prepared a voluminous binder full of documented exhibits against Felter and had three special witnesses lined up to testify against Felter, one of whom was former Hopi Tribal Chairman Benjamin Nuvamsa.

Nuvamsa stated, "This hearing should have happened a long time ago. A lot of innocent people have been injured by [Felter's] actions ... and it's time we turn things around. Let this be a new beginning. I have to give credit to the Upper Moencopi council representatives and the current Sipaulovi council representatives for their foresight and courage. They have had the integrity to carry their ideals through in removing some of the corruption that was at Hopi chambers."

Those who wanted to keep Felter in office and who voted against the measure were Kykotsmovi representatives Nada Talayumptewa and Phillip Quochytewa, and Bacavi Village representatives Mike Puhuyesva, Arvin Puhuyesva and Velma Kelyesva.

The 10 remaining members of the Council voted in favor of removing Felter.

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