Four Yakama Nation Tribal Council members have been ousted during a special recall session by tribal members unhappy with the tribe's purchase of a minor-league basketball team.
TOPPENISH, Yakima County — Four Yakama Nation Tribal Council members have been ousted during a special recall session by tribal members unhappy with the tribe’s purchase of a minor-league basketball team.
Nearly 700 tribal members showed up for the recall session Tuesday at the Toppenish Community Center. Only a quorum of 250 tribal members was needed to start the session.
Executive board members Jerry Meninick, Virgil Lewis and Davis Washines, and Council Member Ray Colfax were removed from office, effective immediately.
The move stems from the tribe’s purchase of the Yakima Sun Kings of the Continental Basketball team earlier this summer.
On June 10, the executive board approved buying the team from a Yakima businessman for $140,000 before consulting the rest of the 14-member Tribal Council. The full council did not vote on the purchase until after it was already signed.
Tribal law required the purchase to have been put before voting tribal members. When the tribe’s General Council officers tried to stop the purchase on June 17, it was already a done deal, said General Council Chairman Philip Olney.
The Tribal Council is responsible for overseeing the tribe’s daily governmental operations. The General Council is composed of four officers – a chairman, vice chairman, secretary and sergeant at arms – and all voting tribal members. General Council officers directly represent the voting members and are responsible for calling meetings on major decisions.
Outraged tribal members turned in a petition with nearly 300 signatures in late June calling for the removal of the three-member executive board and five other Tribal Council members.
“People are hurting today – that’s a lot of money,” tribal member Jeff Sohappy told the Yakima Herald-Republic for a story today. “Leadership without representation – we’ve got elected officials that aren’t doing anything for us that’s beneficial.”
Tribal members voted to elect alternate Council Member Ray James to fill one of the now-empty seats. Also elected to the council were Ralph Sampson Jr., Glen Pinkham and Ross Sockzehigh.
Still facing recall are tribal members Richard George, Sam Jim Sr., Lonnie Selam Sr., and Johnny Smartlowit.
Despite the recall, little likely can be done now to free the tribe from the deal, Olney said. Some tribal members, though, said they would still seek a way out of the purchase.
The Uceny family, former owners of the team, believe the purchase is a done deal.
“It was pretty cut and dried,” said John Uceny, former senior partner of the Sun Kings. “There were no provisions for any ifs, ands or buts. The money’s gone, so they can’t get it back. I paid the bills.”
Last week, Meninick said he hoped the tribe would follow through with the plans the executive board envisioned for the Sun Kings. Tribes across the country were interested in advertising at games, and that revenue already had paid the bills for the first year, Meninick said.
Also, the potential is there to get American Indian players into the league, he said.
“There’s 100 reasons why we should do this compared to one reason why we shouldn’t,” he said.