Former Yakama officials question tribe’s spending

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) –  November, 2012
Two former Yakama Nation officials say they were fired for questioning how the tribe spends state and federal funds on social programs and whether some of the money was unfairly benefiting employees and their family members.

Robert Ramirez, the tribe’s former deputy director who oversaw social services, said he documented a pattern of favoritism over many years in which people working in a program designed to serve children in foster care awarded themselves and family members state-provided dollars.

Payments averaged about $200 apiece but often went higher and occurred more than once a year, Ramirez told the Yakima Herald-Republic (

He contends the money is intended for people in less fortunate circumstances with emergencies.

Ramirez’s supervisor, former tribal director Colleen Reimer – who oversaw all tribal programs – said she saw similar misspending in senior and scholarship programs.

Ramirez, who is not a tribal member, was hired in August 2011 and fired when his position was eliminated in March. Reimer, a member of the tribe, was hired in February 2011 and said she was fired without reason in January.

“We can’t continue to allow this to happen,” Reimer said. “This tribe is imploding. Integrity is pretty much lost.”

A tribal leader said the tribe investigated the complaints but found nothing amiss.

But a regional administrator for the state Department of Social and Health Services – which hands out some of the funding – said Ramirez’s complaints may have validity and that an investigation has been launched.

“I suspect (Ramirez) has got some merit in what he’s saying, but by the same token, we don’t know the issues of the families,” said DSHS regional administrator Ken Nichols in Yakima. “So there’s possibilities, but I also think there’s bad blood between” Ramirez and the tribe.

Ramirez said his proof is reflected in records dating back five years listing recipients of the state-funded emergency dollars in the tribe’s foster care program, Nak Nu We Sha.

Ramirez said he can identify employees of the program and other tribal employees and their relatives – nearly a dozen in all – who received benefits without any documentation of their qualifications.

But Yakama Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin said employees can be legitimate recipients of emergency payments.

“If I’m an employee working for Nak Nu We Sha and have a foster child, then I’m entitled to those funds,” he said.

Nichols said it’s possible that workers for a social program also could be recipients.

“We have people working for various types of agencies that come in and get this type of help,” he said. “It’s kind of like food stamps. Just because you’re working doesn’t mean you don’t get food stamps.”

Smiskin said he isn’t aware of Reimer’s complaints, nor would he discuss her or Ramirez’s firings, saying he couldn’t disclose personnel matters.

The tribe receives roughly $20,000 a year from the state for the emergency-fund program, and only foster parents who show a need are supposed to qualify for a one-time payment. That funding is just a small portion of the Nak Nu We Sha’s entire budget, which approaches $1 million.

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