Pawhuska Indian Village residents elect all-women Five-Man Board

Pawhuska Indian Village residents elected five Osage women on Oct. 10 to represent them on the Five-Man Board. This is the first time in recent memory the Pawhuska board is comprised of all women who will serve one-year terms until the next regular village election in October 2013.

Serving on the Five-Man Board are: Paula Stabler (chairperson); Paula Farid (vice-chair); Renee Harris (treasurer); Asa Cunningham (secretary) and Jodel Heath (member). The board is holding its first meeting  Monday Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Wakon Iron community building.

An earlier meeting scheduled for Oct. 22 was postponed due to a funeral at the chapel next to Wakon Iron.

At the meeting, the new board members will provide updates on the board transition activities and board plans to be undertaken within the next 12 months. Harris said a potluck meal is planned for 6 p.m. with board business to start the next hour.

“The village is in trouble, we’re going to come in and make things right,” said Stabler who previously served on the Five-Man Board several years ago with Farid and Heath. “It’s hard work, this time there’s a lot more involved. This is not a one-man show anymore.”

The Oct. 10 election comes in wake of an Osage Nation Congressional audit report calling into question the prior board operations and spending of village revenue. The village draws monthly revenue from its month-to-month lease with the Pawhuska Osage Casino located in the southeastern corner of the village jurisdiction. The Osage Casino paid the Five-Man Board a total of $857,025.93 between October 2008 and June 2012 in monthly lease payments, according to the Sept. 7 report issued by the ON Congressional Office of Fiscal Performance and Review.

The OFPR audit report stated more than $800,000 of that revenue is unaccounted for after former Five-Man Board Chairman Joe Don Mashunkashey declined to participate in the OFPR audit. Absent board participation, the OFPR audit continued and reported more than $50,000 in village money was used to pay electric bills for village properties and residents – including Mashunkashey.

“These expenditures totaled $50,732.37 for the period between November 2008 and July 2012,” according to the OFPR report. “This left a balance of $806,293.56 that could not be accounted for with the records that we had available.”

With over $800,000 at issue, the OFPR issued a “disclaimer of opinion” on the Five-Man Board due to lack of cooperation from Mashunkashey – who was the sole person in charge of the village bank account – and without financial records to examine.

Mashunkashey resigned days after the OFPR report was released. He told the Osage News he used village money to pay his utility bills and added that he paid the $12,000-plus back to the bank used to pay his residential electric bills.

It’s unknown how the remaining $800,000 was spent, but Mashunkashey said he used village money to help residents falling on hard financial times with utility bills, provided gift certificates for school clothes and bought groceries.

Stabler said the new board members are dividing up tasks to determine priority needs of the village for its residents’ benefit, including taking inventory of village property and getting finances in order. “We also need to go to the businesses and tell them there’s a new board… this is our home and we need to take care of it,” she said.

Cunningham, who sat on the prior board with Mashunkashey, said she had nothing to do with the finances and told the OFPR she did not have knowledge nor received information on the village finances, expenditures and revenue.

The new board is scheduled to meet with the Executive Branch and ON Attorney General Jeff Jones on Oct. 30 to follow-up on more transitional business, which includes turning over financial records recovered by the new board and further discussion of a renegotiated Pawhuska casino lease.

At the Sept. 19 ON Gaming Enterprise Board meeting, Osage Casino executive Kimberly Pearson referred to the Pawhuska casino lease agreement stating she’s heard discussion that the lease needs to be revised.

Cunningham said a renegotiated and updated lease is in the works for the Pawhuska casino with Osage Casino officials who will issue the rent checks to the ON government’s Treasury.

The casino lease was executed in 2004 between the Osage Tribal Council and the Five-Man Board. According to the lease, the tribal council is the one charged with depositing the rent into the village bank account. The two-year lease expired in 2006 but is allowed to continue on a month-to-month basis pending a renegotiated lease.

An additional issue raised due to the OFPR audit is the casino has been paying the rent directly to the village checking account at Pawhuska’s First National Bank versus paying the check to the Nation’s Treasury, which would make the deposit into the account. It’s unknown how or why the rent payment process changed. During the Sept. 19 meeting, gaming board chairwoman Stacy Laskey said the rent arrangement was already in place when she and current board members started their terms with hers first in 2010.

Cunningham and Stabler said the new board members are holding weekly task meetings at Wakon Iron to work on transitioning and planning. At the top of the list is building maintenance issues, clearing overgrown grass and preparing for winter, Stabler said.

Chief complaints heard by village residents are dilapidated abandoned homes, surrounded by overgrown grass, sit unattended. Users of Wakon Iron also say the building needs improvements, as well as the dance arbor.

Stabler said the arbor leaks in some areas and it will be up to the board to decide on improvements. She also said Wakon Iron plumbing needs upgrades along with the heating system.

Cunningham said inventory needs to be taken of the village maintenance equipment, including mowers, at the maintenance shop, which had Internet service until the board recently cut it. “There’s no more Internet in the maintenance shop. I don’t know how it got there, we all have our computers at home,” she said.

In wake of the audit, Cunningham and her two former Five-Man Board colleagues (Ted Brunt and Frank Red Corn) met with Principal Chief John Red Eagle who let them decide on their status with two board vacancies. Former board member Jennifer Tiger joined the Five-Man Board as an interim member for four months before resigning in July citing personal time constraints.

Cunningham said the board considered filling the two vacancies but ultimately “we decided in fairness to hold the election.”

According to the 1963 Pawhuska Indian Village Constitution, the village committee (Five-Man board) is charged with making “appropriate regulations providing for the use of improvements maintained and supervised by the village committee except when such improvements and public facilities are to be used for dance purposes.” The Constitution also calls for board elections to be held biennially on the first Monday of October of each odd-numbered year and states: “All business of the village committee shall be transacted in public meetings.”

The three board members contacted the ON Election Board who conducted the Oct. 10 election at Wakon Iron. Cunningham said it’s the first time the Election Board was used to run the Pawhuska village election. In prior years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ON Police Department conducted and counted votes at the board elections, she said.

At the Oct. 10 meeting, attendees made their Five-Man Board nominations and those names were voted on that same day.

“I was happy about it,” said Cunningham, “I’m pleased to know residents have their trust in me to work out here in the community.” Of her fellow new board members, Cunningham said: “They’re all very hard working women.”

Stabler said village resident meetings are planned for the third Monday of each month through September 16, 2013 at Wakon Iron.