HCAOG discusses member criteria

HCAOG discusses member criteria
by Nathan Rushton, 10/28/2006

After several hours of wrangling, the Humboldt County Association of Government’s eight-member board of directors inched closer Thursday night to finalizing the steps necessary for how the county’s transportation funding planning agency can add new members.

Although directors have been working for nearly one year on how a hypothetical new member might be added, the discussions keep coming back to the Hoopa Valley Tribe, which has been trying unsuccessfully for more than a decade to gain a seat on HCAOG’s board.

In often heated discussions, which have repeatedly ended in deadlocked votes, the board has battled over concerns that the tribe’s form of government is too different compared with the governments of other members, which represent the county and the seven incorporated cities.

But the directors cleared the deadlock roadblock and approved 3-5 to have HCAOG’s attorney work with his Hoopa Valley tribal counterpart to draft amendments to HCAOG’s bylaws aimed at eliminating concerns about the tribe’s sovereign immunity status and its form of representational government, which is based on lineage, not geography.

Councilmembers Dave Meserve of Arcata, Adelene Jones of Blue Lake, Carlos Benemann of Ferndale, Chi-Wei Lin of Trinidad and Eureka Mayor Peter La Vallee voted in favor of the plan, while Fortuna Mayor John Campbell, Rio Dell Mayor Bud Leonard and Humboldt County Supervisor Roger Rodoni voted in opposition.

Thursday’s proposed amendments add to the already agreed-on criteria for new members, which include having at least five miles of public lands, a population of 300, regulatory and statutory contract conformance and open meeting laws.

Part of the problem for HCAOG is that its charter doesn’t include a section that addresses a mechanism for resolving disputes among current and future member agencies.

Grett Hurley, a senior tribal attorney with the Hoopa Valley Tribe, agreed to work with HCAOG legal counsel David Tranberg to draft dispute resolution language for HCAOG’s charter that he said would cover the tribe’s sovereign immunity sticking point and would likely address all of the other concerns directors had.

Although he said he could solve some issues, Hurley indicated the tribe wouldn’t budge on other aspects.

“I’ve said it in a memo and I have said it before,” Hurley said. “Hoopa will not change its form of government.”

The dispute resolution language is anticipated to be brought back before the board for consideration in an as-yet-to-be-determined special meeting in November.

Besides the sovereign immunity and representation issues, campaign contributions to political candidates by area tribes was another concern for several directors.

Although Benemann called the campaign contributions issue a “red herring,” Rodoni called it a $25,000 red herring, apparently referring to the recent contribution by the Blue Lake Rancheria to Supervisor Bonnie Neely in her bid for re-election.

In repeated questions that went unanswered, Meserve asked fellow directors what the negative or positive effect would be on the board if the Hoopa Valley Tribe had a seat.

In response to other questions, Rodoni said he wanted an equal playing field among representatives and said Native American tribes, which he called “quasi-for-profit business,” get to play both sides of the fence, which included contributing to political campaigns — something that no other government representative could do.

But Tranberg agreed with Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairperson Clifford Lyle Marshall, who said as long as California laws permitted it, it was perfectly legal.

Another idea pitched by Tranberg in an effort to move the process forward, which initially received a less enthusiastic reception by most of the directors, was the possibility of bringing the Hoopa Valley Tribe on as a trial member to see how the relationship worked before taking the full membership leap.

Meserve called the idea “repugnant,” but agreed to at least consider the proposal if it was a short trial period.

The directors passed the motion 6-to-1, with Rodoni casting the only no vote, to have the attorneys explore that idea.

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