St. Bonaventure second-in-command asked to resign after investigation
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
Dec. 12, 2017
THOREAU — St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School, which is supported by the charitable donations of donors from across the county, quietly asked for the resignation of Cindy Vandever Howe, the mission’s second-in-command, back in October.
Specific details about why Howe was asked to submit her resignation — reportedly along with her daughter and son-in-law’s resignations — remain unclear.
Although St. Bonaventure has hired public relations firms in the past to nationally promote a variety of its positions, programs and projects, no press release was issued and no statement was made to the local community about Howe’s resignation. In the absence of factual information by mission officials, Howe’s resignation became a topic of community speculation and calls to the local media over the past several weeks.
Chris Halter, executive director of St. Bonaventure, emailed a statement from the mission’s Board of Trustees Monday in response to media questions.
“An internal investigation at Saint Bonaventure Indian Mission and School identified that irregularities in policy and practice that were related to utilization of staff time and resources had occurred,” the statement said. “The Board, as trustees of the Mission, taking their fiduciary responsibilities very seriously, requested a thorough review of the accusations made which was conducted.”
Board member Edmund Yazzie was contacted in early November about Howe’s resignation. Yazzie, a Navajo Nation Council delegate, is the only local community member who serves on St. Bonaventure’s Board of Trustees, an all-male board comprised mostly of individuals who live out of state.
Yazzie is also the parent of a St. Bonaventure employee, as his adult son works for the mission.
“All this was from employees bringing up concerns,” Yazzie said in a phone interview Nov. 7.
According to Yazzie, board member Daniel G. Mitchell Jr., of Texas, came to Thoreau, questioned St. Bonaventure employees and reported his findings to the board. St. Bonaventure’s online biography of Mitchell states he is a retired narcotics investigator from the Houston Police Department. Attempts to contact Mitchell were unsuccessful.
“There were a lot of questions about the finance part,” Yazzie said of the employee allegations.
When asked why St. Bonaventure officials did not file a police report, Yazzie said the subject “was talked about,” but it was determined that termination would be an adequate response. In addition, Yazzie said, a “stronger and stricter” financial policy was being drafted by St. Bonaventureofficials.
Howe, who continues to work as the longtime secretary-treasurer for the Navajo Nation’s Baca-Prewitt Chapter, was contacted for comment Thursday.
“I resigned from St. Bonaventure and there’s nothing else to say,” Howe said.
Halter spoke briefly about Yazzie’s comments Wednesday. Halter said he wasn’t sure they were “an accurate representation” of what had occurred.
On Monday, Halter emailed an official statement that said, “This communiqué stands as the official position of the Board and any statement that is made apart from this stands in conflict with the official Board position and cannot be considered factual.”
According to the statement, St. Bonaventure’s internal investigation included examination of data from internal documents, intensive interviews with staff and “examination of work products.”
Following the review, it stated, Halter “immediately took steps to address the issues and to put safeguards in place to ensure that this not occur in the future,” and he presented the findings in a report to the board. At a meeting in October, the board accepted the report and the resignations of several staff members, which St. Bonaventure declined to name, citing board policy not to discuss personnel matters.
The statement quotes Halter saying, “We work diligently every day to ensure that all donations from the generosity of our donors are utilized for the good of those we serve in the love of God.
“The Executive Director is working with the Board to revise procedures and practices in keeping with the goals of the Mission,” the statement continued. “There was no negative impact to the people served by the mission or to the services provided.”
The board took issue with reported allegations that were reflected in media questions posed to Halter.
“It is very important to note that there have been statements and accusations made from outside the Mission that do not appear to comport with the facts presented to and accepted by the Board,” the statement said. “The statements made appear to greatly exaggerate the issues.”
The board’s statement dismissed such allegations, saying they indicated “a significant overstatement of the facts and are dramatically overblown.” The board added, “Our investigation did not find anything like what is implied there.”
Because St. Bonaventure operates as a Catholic entity within the Diocese of Gallup, the diocese was contacted for comment Monday.
“As this time we will defer to the press release issued by St. Bonaventure’s Board of Directors,” diocesan spokeswoman Suzanne Hammons said.