Baker rejoins council to work as ‘team player’

Councilman Melvin J. Baker
Newly elected Southern Ute Indian Tribal Councilman Melvin J. Baker is sworn in at the Tribal Council Chambers on Tuesday, Dec. 3. Baker won 52.6 percent of votes during the general election Nov. 1.
Damon Toledo | The Southern Ute Drum

Melvin J. Baker is here to listen.

That was the message from the newest member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council following his Monday, Dec. 2 recital of the oath of office in the Tribal Council Chambers. Baker, who after an eight-year absence from the council returns for a third term, became the first candidate in several years to win a majority of votes in a general election when he won 52.6 percent on Friday, Nov. 1.

Having first joined the council in a 1999 special election, Baker later won re-election in 2002 and served until 2005, when his term expired. Since 2009, he has served as director of the Tribal Housing Department.

These days a little older and a little more seasoned, Baker said his approach to the job will not be the same as it was years ago.

“The first time I ran for council, I was younger and more gung-ho. Compared to today, I feel that I have matured, and I’ve learned to listen more. Listen before you speak,” he said. “I’m asking questions I probably wouldn’t have asked 10 years ago.”

Baker said he’s not looking to tackle specific problems right off the bat, but rather to become educated on “all [issues] that have direct impacts to the membership” and, in turn, do his best to educate people about why the council makes the decisions it does.

“We do have to be good communicators among each other,” he said.

Baker said the best part of his job as Tribal Housing director was the opportunity to visit tribal members in their homes and come up with plans to meet their needs.

“The great thing about it is you get to go into the homes of 200-plus tribal members, and you see the good and the bad,” he said. “I’ve seen everything.”

But the thing he’s most proud to have accomplished during his time as director is saving the tribe money by defining a scope of work and comparing bids on each project, he said.

“I think we saved over a million dollars,” he said. I think the savings should be passed on toward other housings programs that could assist in areas that need attention.

Coming back to the council, Baker said so far much is the same as it was before – with a few key differences.

“This council today is more updated with tools like computers, video conferencing,” he said.

Baker said he feels like council members could waste less time traveling to distant meetings by attending the same meetings via phone or computer.

“In the past, I used to go to meetings all over … and sometimes at those meetings, I felt that I didn’t learn anything. We didn’t accomplish anything,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that have really, really changed for the better.”

Looking forward, Baker said he will be guided by the ethics of the tribe and seek to make decisions that benefit the many, not the few.

“I know there’s going to be some really, really tough decisions,” he said. “A person has to really get all the information they need so that they can make that decision.”

Regarding his future on the council, Baker said he doesn’t see himself becoming a career politician.

“I’m looking forward to retiring down the road,” he said. “I felt that I wanted to give it one more shot.”

Baker also wanted to wish all tribal members good health, happiness and good luck during the holidays.

“Be safe and enjoy the time with your family, your children, your elders,” he said. “I wish you the best as 2014 comes.”

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