A legal dispute between the Penticton Indian Band Development Corporation and six former band councillors appears to be all wrapped up.
The PIBDC filed a lawsuit against former councillors Joseph Pierre, Clint Gabriel, Kevin Gabriel, Travis James Kruger and Dolly Catharine Kruger, as well as former chief Jonathan Kruger in late September, after the six failed to pass on their shares in the PIBDC.
Though the eight councillors and the chief each typically have held a share in the Penticton Indian Band’s corporation, chief and council approved a motion this year to hand off all shares to Chief Chad Eneas, who would hold on to the shares while the community considers another way to divvy up the shares.
But the six former councillors failed to pass on their shares by late September, and by the end of summer, each of them had either been voted out in last year’s election or resigned from their position.
However, court documents filed on Oct. 2 indicated all parties had signed the transfer of their shares to the PIBDC.
Requests for comment from the PIBDC on went unanswered on Friday, but CEO Ted Burton sent a statement to the Western News on Tuesday.
“We are pleased to be moving together with our band members to provide the community with job opportunities, economic development and sustainable growth,” the statement reads.
“The PIBDC is open to the dynamic opportunities that are before us and look forward to working with the business community in the evolvement of the area. While the matters are still yet to be closed and filed in the B.C. Supreme Court, it would be premature to comment further at this time.”
With that said, Jonathan Kruger told the Western News in an interview with the signing of share transfers, the litigation will be ending.
“We all signed over the shares. I want to state clearly that this all could have been avoided in January if council just accepted the shares,” Kruger said. “It did snowball out of control. There were other things that came up.”
Kruger said the former councillors did attempt to sign shares over in the past, but because chief and council was leaning toward a resolution passed later on this year that would mandate all shares go to Eneas, that never occurred.
And when councillors began resigning and a non-confidence issue came up, Kruger said there were distractions from that process.
But when the lawsuit came up on Sept. 21, Kruger said he wasn’t made aware of it.
“I was shocked and upset that we find out through the media that we’re getting sued over these issues that could have been avoided in January, like I said, and then having to deal with that, and to make us look like we were stalling business or hurting the business. I would never do that,” Kruger said.
Prior to his resignation, Kruger said a resolution came up that he thought was productive: Eneas reportedly agreed to rescind the resolution that called for all shares to be transferred to him.
“So we all felt pretty good about that, and we did have a shareholders meeting and following the words that were held at the community meeting on August 30, but then we find out in the newspaper that we were sued,” he said.
He added he has never seen someone “dodge” a motion that was put on the floor, referring to the PIB claiming there is no legal basis for a non-confidence motion.
A non-confidence motion has come up once before, Kruger said, adding that was before his time. But with this summer’s motion, he said he didn’t officially take a side on the non-confidence matter.
“I got up in front of the people and said that whatever the people want, I will stand behind,” he said.
Kruger said he knows “for a fact” that the PIB requires five people for a quorum — the legal minimum number of elected officials to run governance — despite the band’s official legal opinions that it published showing
“There’s trust issues, obviously. I’m hoping that we can move past that and actually work for the people. That’s what we’re there for. I can’t be around that if we’re not there working for the people,” Kruger said. “So I decided to join the people, and that’s why I resigned.”
But when it comes time to fill the five vacant spots on council, opened by five resignations, including Kruger’s, he said he would not be seeking re-election — though he will participate in band meetings.
“I did the best I could. I’m really proud of the leadership that I worked with in the past ,and we’ve come so far, and we’ve done so many great things together for our community, and I think we left a really amazing legacy,” he said. “I hope that it continues, but I’m not interested in coming back in politics.”
All of that said, Kruger said he believes everyone in the community has the betterment of the PIB at heart, even if they disagree with how to do that.
“I think we need to do some healing, and I think we need the right people in there maybe to start that,” he said. “I don’t want to be an obstacle of all the hurt in our community. I don’t understand it, but I do feel it, and I just want us to keep moving forward.”