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Published November 14 2010

Three Tribes’ new chairman closes Fargo office

The newly elected chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in western North Dakota has ordered a satellite tribal office in Fargo to close less than six months after it opened.

Chairman Tex Hall said he’s reviewing possible shortfalls in the tribes’ budget. He said the Fargo office may reopen when the process is finished, but added that its staff also may need to fundraise to make up for the shortfall.

“From the looks of everything, our tribe spent a lot of money, and so we’re really concerned about the Fargo office and a lot of offices being able to be viable in 2011,” he said.

The Fargo office, in the U Motors building at 3525 38th St. S., opened June 1 and held its grand opening on July 20.

Office Coordinator Jolene Gonzales said she and the office’s two other staffers have essentially been laid off, at least temporarily.

The office is an extension of the main tribal office in New Town, N.D. It helps members living in the Fargo region – including college students – fill out paperwork to obtain tribal loans and grants and provides a place for them to network, Gonzales said.

“We’re trying to channel them in one place so that when they come off the reservations, they’re not just going to all of the other area services in the community,” she said. “We try our best to help them with our own funding from the tribe.”

Before it closed last week, the office had served about 120 tribal members since mid-July, she said.

“I know that a lot of members in the community are very upset,” she said about the closing.

Gonzales said Hall told her that he supports the satellite office, which Hall confirmed to The Forum.

“If it balances within our budget and continues to serve the community like that, I have no problem with it,” he said.

Hall said the 2010 budget that ended Sept. 30 hasn’t been closed out and the 2011 budget ­wasn’t ready by Oct. 1. He hopes to have both issues resolved by next month.

“We were overspent last year in ’09, and it appears we were way overspent in 2010,” he said.

Hall’s Nov. 2 election win over incumbent chairman Marcus Levings is being challenged by a group of tribal members who have petitioned the tribal election board about possible irregularities at polling places, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Hall said his decision to close the Fargo office had nothing to do with the fact that it was created under Levings’ leadership.

“We’re not playing marbles in junior high,” Hall said. “We’re talking about real people’s lives, services to tribal members. Jolene brought a pretty good list about the people they’ve served.”

Gonzales said she expects the office to be closed for two months.

“They said that we would have to bring another proposal to the table and we would of course negotiate and reassess until they can reach an agreement where they feel that the budget is something that they could work with,” she said.

Gonzales said she’s working on ways to raise funds for the office and plans to meet with city officials to see if there’s any outside support to keep it going.

“It’s been a blessing for all the people, and we intend to try to continue our work in the community somehow, some way,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528