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Apache council wants transparency

LAS CRUCES – The Mescalero Apache Tribal Council on Wednesday pushed back against an apparent lack of transparency within the tribe’s administration by voting to put President Frederick Chino Sr. and Vice President Sandra Platero on paid administrative leave for the next month.

While Chino and Platero are on leave, council members will conduct an “operational and programmatic review of the Tribe’s activities,” according to a news release issued Wednesday.

No other details about the nature of the review were publicly disclosed. No wrongdoing by Chino and Platero has been alleged, according to the news release.

As to the reason for Chino’s temporary removal from office, long-time Tribal Council member Alfred La Paz, who was designated acting president in Chino’s absence, said, “. . . A number of Council members had concerns about the level of communication that existed between the president and the Council.”

Four members of the Tribal Council did not return calls seeking comment, and two others who were reached declined to comment.

Several Apaches who have been critical of Chino’s administration, however, said they were excited by the move, and one said he hoped the fact-finding exercise will eventually result in Chino’s impeachment and removal from office.

“I’m ecstatic about it,” said tribal member Justine Peralto. “They’ve been very secretive about everything, and then we find out after the fact.”

Two Tribal Council members have previously said they were unable to obtain basic information about the tribe’s budget, and reservation residents say they are not permitted to attend meetings of the council. Neither Chino nor Platero could be reached for comment.

Peralto pointed to a raucous general meeting of the tribe on April 19 as a turning point in relations between residents and the administration of Chino, whose two-year term ends in December.

The April general meeting was the first time most residents heard details from Chino about exploratory drilling aimed at determining the financial viability of mining rare earth minerals on the reservation’s east side. Several speakers vocally protested the plan, while others criticized other initiatives: plans to buy a new plane for the tribe; an effort to build a new youth center on land that a family was forced to vacate; and the sale of manufactured homes obtained from the federal government.

“Nowadays everything is hidden from us,” said former council member Joseph Geronimo. “No one knows what’s going on.”

La Paz, in the news release, said that tribal business will continue as usual. The Mescalero Apache tribe, located in the Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico, operates the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino and Ski Apache.

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