Skull Valley Goshutes' elections attempt fails

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SKULL VALLEY - Tribal elections for the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes didn't proceed as scheduled Saturday when Leon Bear, the disputed tribal leader, declared there wasn't a quorum of voting tribal members and adjourned the meeting a half-hour after its scheduled 10 a.m. start.

Margene Bullcreek, who had planned to challenge Bear for the leadership post, said about 35 people were at the meeting when Bear ended it. Half of the estimated 84 to 86 adult tribal members eligible to vote are required for a quorum, she said.

Skull Valley Goshutes came from Colorado, Idaho and Nevada for the vote, said Miranda Wash, who also opposes Bear's leadership. "He should have given more time for the people to come in, because a lot were coming in," she said. "The meeting only lasted five or 10 minutes."

Bear and his supporters left quickly after he called off the meeting, Bullcreek said.

No one from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs was on hand to monitor the proceedings, she said. The agency has attended meetings in the past.

A reporter who attempted to approach several tribal members in the Goshute village community center parking lot for comment was told she was trespassing and ordered to leave. Any tribal member can order nonmembers off the property at will.

Contacted by telephone, Bullcreek said Bear is an illegitimate leader whose term was up a year ago and had no authority to hold or adjourn the meeting. "We don't have a chairman, we don't have a vice chairman, we don't have a secretary. We haven't had a secretary for the past six months or so," she said. "I told him he shouldn't even be running the meeting because his term was up. . . . He said he could still be in there until he was elected out."

Bullcreek said Bear promised to convene a meeting in March and quarterly thereafter where an election could take place. "But when your term is up your term is up," she said.

Attempts to reach Bear by telephone at his home were unsuccessful.

Bear has been involved in power struggles since he signed a lease in 1997 with Private Fuel Storage, a nuclear power utility consortium, to allow the limited liability company to store up to 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel on the reservation 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

The state opposes the multibillion dollar proposal, and has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the dispute with the sovereign Goshute nation. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering the PFS license application, with a decision expected as early as January.

A year ago, the U.S. attorney for Utah indicted Bear on three counts of embezzling $160,952 from tribal programs and three counts of tax fraud. Prosecutors allege Bear reported being unemployed on his personal tax filings but was paid more than $192,316 for tribal business. Bear's trial, scheduled to begin Nov. 3, was continued to Feb. 22. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Wash, Sammy Blackbear and Marlinda Moon have claimed they were elected tribal chairman, vice chairman and secretary, respectively, in September 2001. The three, along with attorney Duncan Steadman, are scheduled to go to trial Dec. 13 on charges of embezzlement and bank fraud after moving more than $1 million in tribal accounts amid the leadership struggles stemming from the PFS deal.

In March, the nuclear commission declared for the third and final time it wouldn't consider tribal or PFS finances, nor would it delve into corruption allegations against Bear, even though the commission "assumed the truth of the facts alleged."

In April, dissidents tried to oust Bear and Lori Skiby, the vice chairwoman, demanding their resignations within 10 days and declaring the tribal council - that is, all the adult members - in charge. Neither the Indian Affairs bureau nor its parent agency, the Department of Interior, has intervened in the turmoil tearing apart the tribe.