S. Utes’ election to be in April

Councilman Newton is acting chairman

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s governing body named Tribal Councilman Jimmy Newton Jr. as acting chairman Friday after former Chairman Matthew Box resigned the night before.

“The recent days and weeks have been difficult and unfortunate for the Tribal membership, the Tribal organization and the Tribe as a whole,” Newton said in a prepared statement released Friday.

A special election for a new chairman is scheduled for April 12.

Box, who took office in January 2009, resigned Thursday at the request of the Tribal Council amid ongoing controversy surrounding claims of administrative wrongdoing and mismanagement of the tribe’s government and business affairs.

Box’s two top appointed executive officers, Andrew Frost and Johnny Valdez, departed their posts in the days preceding Box’s resignation.

Claims against Box and several top leaders for the tribe have been surfacing for months and played a role in an effort to recall Box from his position in December. That effort failed because not enough tribal members turned out to vote in the special election.

Box has denied the claims against him and called his critics “agitators,” saying they were upset he tried to revamp antiquated policies and procedures to further the tribe’s autonomy from the federal government.

Tribal member Lynda Grove on Friday called the recent upheaval in the Southern Ute’s tribal leadership “a wake-up call” for tribe members.

“We need to be more aware of who we elect to lead us,” Grove said. “This experience has opened tribal members’ eyes to what is occurring in our government and has shown how important it is that everyone be aware of what’s going on – not only now, but in the future and for generations to come.”

Newton said the Tribal Council, meanwhile, is “committed to moving forward to put these challenging political events behind us and continue our service to the people.”

Tribal member Rick Jefferson, who helped to lead the recall effort last year, said Friday that he wasn’t involved in the member-generated movement in recent weeks to oust Box and his administration. He walked away from the issue after the recall vote because he believed “the people had spoken,” Jefferson said.

But now that the tide of change has begun rolling, the tribe will face a difficult task in working toward “some sort of recovery,” Jefferson said.

“This is our chance to change our future,” Jefferson said.

hscofield@durango herald.com