Santa Ysabel tribe may oust chairman
Leadership feud continues for Julian-area tribe By EDWARD SIFUENTES May 14, 2009
The Santa Ysabel Band of Mission Indians has launched an effort to remove its tribal chairman, Johnny Hernandez.
The tribe's seven-member Legislature signed a petition earlier this month to remove the chairman from office for allegedly misappropriating $27,180 of the tribe's money late last year for court services.
Santa Ysabel, which owns a casino near Lake Henshaw, has had an ongoing feud between its chairman and vice chairwoman, Brandie Taylor.
Taylor said Thursday that the tribe will conduct a hearing June 6 on the petition to remove Hernandez.
"Then, if the Legislators unanimously vote him out, then the next day at the general council meeting, there will be a secret ballot vote to keep him in office or not," Taylor said in a written statement. "The final say is the general council."
Adults among the 650-member tribe constitute its general council, which elects the chairman.
Hernandez said in a written statement that he did nothing wrong and will fight the allegations.
Since last year, Hernandez and Taylor have fought over the tribe's casino and other issues.
"This removal is really driven by the vice chairwoman, Brandie Taylor, who wants to become chairman," Hernandez said in his statement.
Taylor has said that the chairman excluded her from casino businesses and that he has fired tribal government officials without due process.
In a letter dated Dec. 29, 2008, Hernandez told Taylor that he had decided to remove her from her duties for "blatant insubordination."
Taylor sued Hernandez for reinstatement in the Inter-Tribal Court in Rincon. The court's judge, Anthony Brandenburg, later ruled in Taylor's favor.
In the petition for removal, the tribe's Legislature alleges that Hernandez misspent the $27,180, which the tribe had allocated last year as a payment for the Inter-Tribal Court. The petition obtained by the North County Times did not say how the money was spent.
Hernandez said the claim is false. He said he paid the court what the tribe could afford at the time, $5,000. The statement did not say when Hernandez made the payment.
The chairman said the tribe had failed to pass an budget for 10 months, which put the tribe's finances in disarray.
"When an annual budget is not in place at the start of the fiscal year, which would be January, the constitution gives the chairman the authority to spend funds on 'essential government functions as determined by the chairman until an annual budget is approved' which I did," Hernandez said.
"They passed a budget more than 10 months past the beginning of the fiscal year which allocated money the tribe did not have after operating for 10 months," Hernandez added.
Taylor said last month that the tribe's government and its casino are in a "dire financial situation."
In 2007, the tribe opened a $27 million, 35,000-square-foot casino with 349 slot machines on its reservation. But the tribe has struggled to attract enough customers to its remote reservation near Julian.
Last year, the tribe fell behind on quarterly payments to the state and the county. The tribe negotiated an agreement with the county to pay it nearly $600,000 a year. The money is supposed to pay for increased law enforcement, ambulances and problem-gambling programs.
Santa Ysabel's missed payments to the county total about $1 million, said John Snyder, the county's lead negotiator with tribes. Negotiations to get the money are ongoing, Snyder said Thursday.