Declaratory Ruling: Oneida Business Committee & HR Dept. Are Not Allowed To Violate Tribal Hiring Laws


Oneida Eye obtained a copy of the July 30, 2014 Oneida Appeals Commission’s Declaratory Ruling regarding the issues Oneida Eye examined in previous posts regarding Human Resources Director Geraldine Danforth’s circumvention of Tribal law regarding hiring practices for newly created positions:

From pages 1-2 of the Declaratory Ruling:

On May 22, 2014 Petitioner, Gina Buenrostro, Advocate for the Oneida Personnel Commission (OPC), requested the Oneida Tribal Court render a Declaratory Ruling on the question of whether the Oneida Business Committee (OBC) correctly followed the Oneida Tribe’s Personnel Policies and Procedures (Blue Book) when it approved the reassignment of two employees with the Oneida Human Resources Department (HRD). The matter names the Oneida Business Committee as Respondent.

Petitioner asserted the history as the following:

1. On January 16, 2014 a panel of three (3) OPC members attended the Human Resources Department (hereinafter, HRD) Reassignment meeting. The reassignments were for two (2) positions as Workforce Development Specialists.

2. After discussions with HRD it was discovered the (2) positions were newly created positions that were grant funded. These two positions were posted internally, which means only within the HRD.

3. The two (2) positions were advertised to HRD personnel only and not to any other department. Since the positions were not posted throughout the Tribe they were not open to all Oneida members.

Therefore, based on the above, Petitioner contended the following:

1. HRD has acted outside their scope of authority by changing the process of how newly created positions are posted.

2. HRD has acted outside their scope of authority by involving the OBC in the approval of reassignments.

3. The OBC has acted outside of their scope of authority by involving themselves in the reassignment process when the Blue Book does not provide the OBC with any oversight of the hiring process.

From pages 4-5:

Petitioner claimed according to the Blue Book, Section III, 3. e. Advertising, 1). Position vacancies will be advertised as widely as possible including “… Petitioner alleged HRD failed to adhere to this law because these two positions were not posted widely, rather they were posted within HRD only. According to the Blue Book, Section III, 3.e. 2) Positions requiring a post-secondary degree and/or a special certificate or license shall be posted for a period of not less than thirty (30) calendar days; all other positions shall be posted for a minimum of ten (10) calendar days. Again, HRD allegedly failed to follow this law because these were post-secondary degree positions and should have been posted for thrity calendar days. According to the Blue Book, Section III, C. Tranfers and Promotions Policy 1.a.1)a. Positions will be posted in prominent locations in each Tribal building. Again, HRD allegedly failed to follow this law because they…posted only within HRD and hired from within.

Petitioner asserted OBC acted in the manner of an Area Manager. If this is true the Area Manager does not supercede the Oneida Personnel Commission. The reason the OPC was created is to keep the OBC out of employment related issues. There is no rule within the Blue Book that allows HRD to circumvent the hiring process.

Petitioner claimed the OBC formulated a Standard Operating Procedure (hereinafter, SOP) titled Conducting E-Polls. Petioner claims the OBC approved the form and then used the form to approve job reassignments. The Blue Book has a process for job reassignments under C. Transfers and Promotions Policy 2. Reassignments, b(3), Job Reassignments may be made at any time with the approval of the Area Manager and after a review of each affected job by the Personnel Evaluation Committee. This was allegedly not adhered to. Instead, HRD went straight to OBC and requested an E-Poll, even though both the OBC and HRD knew the process.

Also on page 5, the Declaratory Ruling states that the Respondent admitted that:

…HRD acted without OPC and requested that OBC conduct an E-Poll in order to be placed on the OBC agenda. The OBC approved the request to be placed on the agenda. The OBC then approved the posting internally [to the department] only and reassignment for the two [newly created] positions. Shortly after OBC’s approval the posting and interviews were held internally [within the department].

From page 6:

The current hiring process in the Blue Book, Section III – Section Policy, B. Hiring Procedure, e. Advertising, 2) requires that position vacancy must first be available to tribal members: “Unless otherwise prohibited by external grant source or federal law, the first posting for a position vacancy shall be limited to enrolled Oneida members and shall be posted for minimum of seven (7) calendar days”

Even if the OBC gave HRD the approval to post internally [to HRD] the law doesn’t support circumventing the process.

It appears the OPC [advocate] is concerned that HRD has found a loophole in the hiring process. We read Sec. III B.e.2 to require that the posting be available to enrolled Oneida members and posted for at least seven calendar days. This language does not permit posting within a department.

Obviously not the entire Personnel Commission was ‘concerned’ because the illegal postings of the new positions (and thus, the subsequent hirings) would have had to be ‘approved’ by some members of the Personnel Commission (right?).

From page 7:

This Court agrees it is vitally important that our departments are following the same set of rules and laws.

The Blue Book is clear. Reassignments and new hires are subject to different processes.

The Court declares that Sec. III.B.e.2 requires that the job posting be available to enrolled Oneida members and posted for at least seven calendar days. This language does not permit posting only within a department.

In issuing a ‘Declaratory Ruling,’ which simply clarifies job advertising requirements going forward, the Court did not render a decision on the legitimacy of hirings for newly created grant-funded positions of HR Dept. Workforce Development Specialists as it relates to Rosa Nicholas-Laster (who is the niece of both HR Director Geraldine Nicholas-Danforth & Grants Director Cheryl Stevens and the granddaughter of Personnel Commissioner Carol Nicholas Smith) or Peril Huff (who is the niece of PR Director Bobbi Webster).

Howver, as Oneida Eye has maintained, it is plainly obvious from the Appeals Commission’s ruling that those hirings by the Oneida Tribe of Indians’ HR Dept. for positions in the HR Dept. were indeed made in violation of Tribal hiring laws.

Did HR Director Geraldine Danforth violate Tribal law with the BC’s knowledge & permission, or did she do an end run for purposes of nepotism & favoritism?

As Oneida Eye noted in our January 29, 2014 post regarding our concerns about these improper hiring actions by the HR Dept.:

This information has been emailed to BC Chair Ed Delgado, Tribal Secretary Patty Hoeft, and BC members Vince DelaRosa & David ‘Fleet’ Jordan. We encourage Oneida Eye readers to contact them and ask if OBC allowed HRD to keep these job openings secret. If so, why? If not, how will they address HRD Manager Geraldine Danforth’s improper denial of employment opportunities to Tribe members?

Oneida Eye also previously noted that during the March 26, 2014 BC Meeting Council member David Jordan finally pushed back when HR Director Geraldine Danforth requested to post a job only within a single department, and that Personnel Services Manager Wendy Alvarez falsely claimed that the department in question had made that request when in fact the department was told that they had to ask that way in order to be granted the request for posting a position.

(Per usual, Council member Brandon Stevens sticks both feet in his mouth.)

Yet the BC never took action to correct the violations of hiring laws by the HR Dept. for positions in the HR Dept., which would seem to indicate that the BC had illegally approved the HR Dept. posting jobs only within the HR Dept. rather than advertising the new grant funded positions widely as required by Tribal law.

Instead, it required a Motion for Declaratory Ruling to be filed on May 22, 2014 by a member of & advocate for the Personnel Commission seeking that clarification of Tribal hiring laws be officially addressed, and it took until July 30, 2014 for a decision to be rendered which only clarifies the process going forward and does not address the illegal postings of the two Workforce Development Specialist positions.

Surely the BC would have sought the legal opinion of Chief Counsel Jo Anne House regarding the Workforce Development job advertising and hiring decisions since both topics were addressed in Executive Session, most likely more than once. What was Jo Anne House’s ‘professional’ legal opinion?

Apparently the majority of the Business Committee and the Chief Counsel don’t understand the Tribe’s hiring laws, or they simply don’t take Tribal law and Tribe members’ employment rights seriously.

Otherwise, they would have listened to what Oneida Eye correctly stated almost eight months ago and acted accordingly.

Will newly elected BC Chair Tina Delgado-Danforth and the incoming BC allow HR Director Geraldine Danforth and Chief Counsel Jo Anne House to retain their positions? If so, why?
See also: Unqualified

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