Too Many Chiefs

The only center Dallas has to help Native Americans is mired in ineptitude and tribal politics

"I really don't think what she was asking for was unreasonable," Jackson says. "The things she was listing were right on track, especially the health factors. It would have been so easy to put carpet in that place."

By the spring of 1996, there were hints that Mary Biermann's job as executive director was on the line. She was due for an evaluation--in fact, she was asking for one because a performance review was required by the Indian Health Services.

In April, the board's personnel committee began putting together its report, and it found Biermann wanting in 11 areas including leadership, staff supervision, research and evaluation of community needs, developing new proposals, and personnel recruiting and retention. The board was growing tired of constantly dealing with low staff morale, Jackson says.

"She had no idea what a long-range plan was, to say nothing about managing finances," McLemore says. "We don't have a place that you would typically call a community center, where various activities can be conducted or meetings held. Related to that would also be some focus on the elderly people. There is just no place for them, not even in the church groups. There is a growing need for that.

"This is where, if Mary Biermann had a long-range concept of a plan, she could easily have integrated this into the operation of the Dallas Inter-tribal Center...The board could care less. All they want is to show on their resume that they served on the board for a year or so and move on."

But Biermann says she didn't have time for long-range planning and spent most of her time putting out fires caused by the board's mismanagement.

She disagrees with the criticisms in the evaluation. "In that [previous] year's time, there was never a meeting or a reprimand to say I was off the mark or that there were some things I should do differently or that I was weak in an area," she says. "With no feedback, you're assuming things are going all right."

Frustrated by her relationship with the board, Biermann decided to step down. Her resignation, however, came just as the board of directors encountered open revolt from one of its members.

On April 18, the board scheduled an executive session, supposedly to finish Biermann's evaluation. But the meeting had to be moved from the DIC building to Dallas Indian United Methodist Church, where Jackson was the minister, after protesters showed up outside the DIC offices wearing DIC T-shirts, carrying signs, and chanting, "Down with the board. We love Mary."

Five board members, past and present, gathered at the church: Sandra Galindo, Gerald Strain, Roy Carlisle, McLemore, and Jackson. Before the meeting could begin, Treasurer Gilbert Oakes Jr., accompanied by Biermann and Tydlaska, "stormed" the meeting.

Oakes claimed he had a document from officials at the Indian Health Services demanding the resignation of all the board members. Except for Oakes. He insisted the board stop its meeting and all the other members step down from their seats. (IHS officials say they never asked for the board's resignation.)

Jackson, who was chairing the meeting, invited Oakes to join the group, but told him it would not consider his call for a mass ouster. "He was hollering at the whole board," Jackson says. "When he started talking the way he did, I turned my back on him. I did not want to look at him, because I've seen what he looks like when he goes on these tantrums and rages."

When Oakes refused to join the meeting, Jackson wadded up the document and threw it over his shoulder. The crumpled paper hit Oakes square in the face.

Oakes was not deterred. At the board's next meeting in May, attorney Peters announced that Oakes was threatening to sue the board. Oakes was claiming that the board's elections were improper, and that it was violating its own rules. Oakes was threatening to try to force the center into receivership.

Ultimately, the board responded by hiring two more attorneys.
Oakes' threatened lawsuit has never been filed, instead hanging in the ethereal netherworld where rumors and threats abound. But it is driving much of what happens at the DIC these days.

Jackson believes the phantom lawsuit is just a smokescreen Oakes is using to hang onto the treasurer's job.

One result of the phantom suit has been to force a new election for the entire board. Candidates have until August 4 to register for the election, and all Native Americans in the center's 11-county territory will then be eligible to elect a new board en masse in September.

"If there are people in the community who are upset about the way the [center] has been run by its board of directors and they think the board members have not done a good job, then they need to find some good applicants," Peters says.

The only ones clearly benefiting from the chaos are the attorneys. Attorney Patt Gibbs and an associate have been hired for $175 an hour to sort out the disagreements between Oakes and the board. Peters, the center's regular attorney, also receives $175 an hour, sources say. Both attorneys are quick to point out they have not billed DIC for all the time they've spent on the center's business.

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THE DALLAS INTER-TRIBAL CENTER was started by one person Bernice Johnson. Who saw that their was need for the Native American who lived in the Dallas Metro area. Please give credit where credit is deserve. Thank you.