Osage News moving forward with suit

Nearly five months passed before Principal Chief John Red Eagle’s office released a copy of the Rod Hartness pipeline consulting contract – a document requested by the Osage News on Jan. 31.

In lieu of no response on the contract request, the newspaper filed a June 18 complaint in ON Trial Court requesting a hearing and to compel the Chief to release the contract to the newspaper. On June 26, Chief Red Eagle’s attorney Kirke Kickingbird filed a written response to the complaint and included a copy of the Hartness contract.

According to the contract dated Jan. 17, Hartness and the Chief signed the document stating Hartness will provide pipeline and energy industry consultation services and will be paid $75 per hour for a maximum of $4,000 per month through Sept. 30, 2013. The contract is capped at $36,000, including travel, unless so authorized by the Chief.

In his response, Chief Red Eagle is asking the court to dismiss the newspaper’s complaint as “moot” and to deny any civil penalty assessments as unwarranted.

Despite the contract’s disclosure 146 days after it was requested under the Nation’s open records act, the Osage News is not dropping its case.

“While the Osage News is pleased Chief Red Eagle finally released the Rod Hartness contract, the Osage News still has a duty to uphold its integrity and follow through with the law,” said Shannon Shaw Duty, editor. “We are still asking the Osage Nation court to hold Chief Red Eagle accountable for violating the Open Records Act.”

ON Trial Court Chief Judge Marvin Stepson scheduled a July 11 hearing in the case. On June 27, Stepson recused himself and appointed Ponca City area Judge Lee Stout to hear the case as an Associate Judge of the ON Trial Court.

Chief Red Eagle did not respond to a request for comment on the contract disclosure before this story was published.

On June 21, Kickingbird contacted Osage News attorney Stephen Lee and asked if the newspaper would be willing to accept a copy of the contract and drop the lawsuit. The newspaper’s Editorial Board discussed Kickingbird’s proposal during a June 25 emergency meeting in executive session. Afterward, the board voted to not accept Kickingbird’s counter offer of the contract and to continue with the lawsuit.    

Chief Red Eagle also released a copy of the Hartness contract to the Bigheart Times, which also requested the contract earlier this year and a copy of the Executive Branch’s check register for the period beginning Jan. 1 and ending April 15. The Times posted electronic copies of the contract and check register on its Web site. According to the register, Hartness was paid $3,525 in March and $3,712 in February.

In his answer brief, Chief Red Eagle “ADMITS not providing Osage News a timely response to its January 31st Request, but DENIES any implication that such an omission was a bad faith denial of said Request.”

Also in the brief: “Chief avers not recalling having received said Request until after diligent search subsequent to being served (with a copy of the newspaper’s complaint) and avers that said Request must have been neglected under the press of other Osage Nation business.”

Shaw-Duty requested a copy of the Hartness contract on Jan. 31 in writing, one day after Chief Red Eagle met with the ON Congressional commerce and economic development committee where the Chief said he hired Hartness as a pipeline consultant to update him on the industry. Chief Red Eagle did not respond to questions at the Jan. 30 meeting regarding Hartness’s pay and work experience. Shaw-Duty also sent subsequent emails to Chief Red Eagle and his appointed staff inquiring as to the status of her open records request with no response.

The Hartness contract disclosure comes one day before Chief Red Eagle’s office issued a news release stating that Enbridge pipeline work will start on Aug. 7 – one month earlier than expected. The release also credits Hartness, a third-generation pipeliner, with spearheading training efforts and union participation to prepare Osage County workers for the project, which is the last 150-mile stretch of the 600-plus-mile Enbridge pipeline project.

According to the release: “An estimated 200 workers, making $21 or more per hour, are expected to generate $200,000.00 in payroll per week to Osage families alone … The (worker training) classes currently underway at the Pawhuska Business Development Center are: laborers, operating engineers, teamsters and welders helpers. Additionally, some Osage students are at welder helper school in Tulsa with training provided by the 798 Union.”

In the news release, Hartness said: “When we had the (training) orientation, we gave students a history of all of the pipelines and the history of all of the Chiefs. This is the only Chief who has done a joint venture like this to be able to put Osages to work – not only a pipeline coming through Osage County but built by Osages. I’ve been in the pipeline business for 35 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this come across Osage County.”

ON Human Resources Director Delary Walters said in the release that participants from other tribes are also getting trained on the pipeline project. “It’s amazing. We’re making history and changing lives,” Walters said.