[Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Oct. 27 and was modified on Nov. 18 for clarification on the issue.]
Five members of the Osage Nation Congress met behind locked doors in the congressional chambers without posting notice of a special, regular or executive session where they were discussing budgetary cuts.
Congressmen Doug Revard, William “Kugee” Supernaw and Eddy Red Eagle were inside, as well as Congresswomen Faren Anderson and Jerri Jean Branstetter.
The Osage News was given an anonymous tip around 3 p.m. Monday that an illegal meeting was taking place in the congressional chambers. The Osage News went to the congressional chambers where the doors were dead bolted and then asked the congressional staff director, Linda Lazelle, if the Osage News was permitted to enter the chambers. Lazelle, whose office has a side door leading into the chambers, went inside the chambers and asked the members of Congress if the Osage News could enter. Much laughter ensued and when Lazelle came back she had a message for the Osage News from the members of Congress inside.
“You can tell [the Osage News] that there is a quorum, the red ink pens are out and we are working,” Lazelle said. When asked which member of Congress gave the message Lazelle said, “I can’t remember which member of Congress said that, but, they just want to be left alone so they can work . . . I don’t want to be dragged into the middle of this, I’m just doing my job and I know you’re just doing your job.”
When the Osage News staff left the congressional chambers, Congresswoman Shannon Edwards and Congressman Mark Freeman were leaving as well.
“This is wrong,” said Edwards, pointing at the dead bolted doors to the congressional chambers. Freeman, who was walking out behind her said jokingly, “Are you discussing the Open Meetings Act and what’s going on in there?” Edwards asked Freeman if he had a position he would like to take and he said, “I believe I just took it.”
The Open Meetings law states that a public body, an official entity in which a quorum is required to conduct public business and which performs a governmental function, shall conduct business in an open and public manner. A public body in the law pertains to committees, boards, commissions and task forces. The law also states that, “An offense under this Act is considered a violation of Osage Nation law and punishable by a fine not less than $100 or more than $500.”
According to the Rules of the Osage Nation Congress, which can be found on the congressional page of the Nation’s official Web site, “All meetings of Congress, Congressional Committees, subcommittees, or task forces at which official actions are to be taken or discussed, or hearings held, are declared to be public meetings.”
A list can be found of the official congressional select and standing committees on the congressional site. There are a total of eight committees, which have at least three members of Congress while some committees have up to six members. For a six member committee, to make an official quorum for a meeting, it takes four members of Congress. For a five member committee it takes three members of Congress and for a three member committee it takes two members of Congress to make an official quorum.
Out of the five members of Congress that were in the chambers Monday there was a quorum for four committees. Those committees are the Congressional Affairs committee, the Rules and Ethics committee in which Branstetter is chair, the Appropriations committee in which Anderson is chair and the Cultural committee in which Anderson is chair.
When the Osage News asked Congresswoman Edwards for further comment, she referred the Osage News to an e-mail she sent at 1:29 p.m. Monday to Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray and Assistant Principal Chief John Red Eagle.
“Congressman Red Corn and I [Shannon Edwards] are currently in our office working and listening to a “meeting” (not in compliance with the Open Meetings Act) being attended in our open area by Congress persons Anderson, Branstetter, Revard, Red Eagle, Shackelford and Supernaw,” wrote Edwards in the e-mail. “These members are going through [ONCA 09-63, ONCA 09-65, ONCA 09-66] to determine what they want to propose as individual amendments tomorrow and how to vote as a block.”
“Is it ethical and appropriate for half the Congress members to hold meetings in private and write legislation to completely change and undermine the work the twelve member Congress has undertaken for well over one month through a public process?” wrote Edwards.
ONCA 09-63 is the Office of the Chiefs Appropriation Act, ONCA 09-65 is the Boards and Commissions Appropriation Act and ONCA 09-66 is the Government Operations Departments and Programs Appropriations Act. ONCA 09-66 contains a large number of budgets for the Nation’s programs that fall under the Executive Branch. All three bills are sponsored by Congresswoman Anderson.
“How disruptive to our government is a Congress whose members cannot even adhere to their own Congressional rules, procedural processes, and the Osage Ethics and Open Meetings Laws?” wrote Edwards. “How effective is a Congress that cannot stand by its own hiring and compensation justification and the appropriation laws it passed for the Legislative and Judicial Branches and some Boards and Commissions less than a month ago?”
Chief Gray did not respond to a phone call or e-mail by the time this story was published. Assistant Chief Red Eagle is recovering from eye surgery and had no comment.