Goshute official resigns in protest

Opposes Leon Bear: She says the chairman stripped her authority, used her as 'a shell'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A leader of the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes has submitted her resignation, attacking the tribal chairman as a “king” who stripped her of any authority and used her as “a shell.”

Lori Skiby, the Skull Valley vice chairwoman, hand-delivered the note two weeks ago to disputed chairman Leon Bear. In a response dated last Wednesday, Bear recommended that her seat be filled by appointment at a tribal meeting on Saturday. Bear mailed copies of Skiby's letter and his response to tribal members.

The proffered resignation is the latest in a long string of leadership controversies that have dogged the 120-member tribe in the past few years. And it raises new doubts about the tribe's ability to manage its lease for a storage site for 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste.

The site, about 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City in Tooele County, is the first high-level nuclear facility to be approved in the United States in the three decades since the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. If constructed, it could hold nearly all of the nuclear waste produced by commercial power plants in the United States in the industry's half-century of operation.

Neither Skiby or Bear, who are cousins, could be reached for comment late Tuesday. But both have explained their positions in letters mailed this week to tribal members.

Rex Allen, a former tribal secretary, said some of the allegations Skiby raised in her letter were among the reasons he has been fighting with Bear in court over tribal governance.

“I am here merely as his shell to do as he pleases,” Skiby wrote in the Aug. 9 letter. Although she was supposed to be in charge of the tribal environmental protection agency, children's welfare programs and other important projects, she was not given access to financial information and was forced to sign blank checks, Skiby alleges in the letter.

“The band, in my opinion, is living a dictatorship with Leon D. Bear reigning as the 'king,' and this I will no longer tolerate,” the letter said.

In an Aug. 16 letter, Bear noted that Skiby hand-delivered her resignation to him in front of her father, sister and tribal attorney Scott York. Bear called the resignation “prudent” and said Skiby ought to return her tribal vehicle and all property owned by the Skull Valley Goshutes and Private Fuel Storage, the utility consortium behind the waste-storage project.

He also said he would like tribal members to let him appoint a new vice chairman to replace Skiby along with a new tribal secretary.

Under the Skull Valley government, the tribal council is comprised of all adult members, which is about 70 people. In theory, the executive committee - the chairman, vice chairman and secretary - conduct the day-to-day business.

But there has not been a secretary for the better part of five years, and the fight over who really leads the tribe has been going on for about as long.

Members have not been able to muster an election at the past six meetings because there was no quorum.

Although York confirmed that he was present in the room when Bear and Skiby discussed the resignation, he disputed the idea that Skiby has resigned. He said that would have to be approved by the general council.

“They have got a procedure in place according to tribal law,” the attorney said.

If Skiby's resignation goes forward, it is not clear what the legal ramifications will be for the nuclear waste project or for Bear, who is on probation for tax evasion related to his handling of his tribal salary and expenses.

York dismissed the probation question. “I don't think his probation amounts to a hill of beans,” the attorney said. “Everyone knows he took one for the tribe” because the tribe's tax lawyer mishandled the IRS returns.

As for the nuclear waste venture, reported years ago as a $3.1 billion project, York said current approvals by the tribal members will allow business to continue.

“There's no decisions that need to be made for projects that are in place,” he said.

Meanwhile, several tribal members said they see Skiby's departure as a way to move the Skull Valley Goshutes forward.

Longtime waste-project opponent Margene Bullcreek said she would rally tribal members this weekend to oppose any appointments.

“That's not something that is part of our traditional government,” she said. Bullcreek, instead, wants an election of new officers. She also will call for an investigation of the current leadership by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Bullcreek has been part of a group of dissidents who have sought help with the leadership problems from the U.S. Interior Department, federal nuclear regulators and state and federal courts. They insist there is not a legitimate government in place that is empowered to carry out the tribe's business.