Rod Hartness testifies he wanted contract withheld from public

Attorneys for Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle will continue calling witnesses for testimonies today during Day Seven of the removal trial in the Congressional Chambers.

If witness testimonies are completed today, the Third ON Congress could vote on the six Article allegations as early as Tuesday, Jan. 21, in the Nation’s first ever removal trial held for an elected Osage official. Trial attorneys for the Congress finished calling witnesses on Jan. 16 and rest its case.

The six allegation Articles made against Chief Red Eagle are those believed to warrant cause for the removal trial, which Congress approved with a 12-0 vote in a November special session.

Day Five’s testimonies brought more details surrounding the six allegations into the spotlight as witnesses who were not part of the original list of witnesses sworn under oath last week took the stand. One of those witnesses: Rod Hartness.

His Jan. 17 testimony comes in response to Article allegation No. 5 that states Chief Red Eagle “abused the power of his elected position to improperly withhold one or more contracts between the Osage Nation and Rod Hartness properly requested under the (Nation’s Open Records Act) by the Osage News staff and The Bigheart Times staff, which constitutes malfeasance in office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, and arrogation of power.”

Chief Red Eagle hired Hartness to be his energy consultant last year, which came under fire starting in January 2013 when he refused to provide details or release copies of the Hartness consultant contract to the Osage News, Bigheart Times and the ON Congress after each entity made several requests for it. The Chief and his attorney, Kirke Kickingbird, told the Osage News it would have to file an open records request during a Jan. 30 Congressional commerce and economic development committee meeting, during which it was revealed Hartness was hired as a consultant for the Chief.

The Chief ultimately released the contract in June 2013 to both newspapers after the Osage News filed a tribal court suit seeking the contract and both sides later settled that case. The contract was signed on Jan. 17 by Red Eagle for a rate of $75 per hour for a maximum of $4,000 per month through Sept. 30, 2013. The contract was capped at $36,000, including travel. A second contract was signed for Hartness in October of 2013 through March of this year.

The Congress added the matter to its Select Committee of Inquiry investigation that examined 15 original allegations of wrongdoing against the Chief and the allegation is now one of the six being considered during the trial.

Hartness took the stand as the final witness on Jan. 20. He identified himself as a retiree in addition to energy consultant for Chief Red Eagle.

Like Chief Red Eagle, Hartness said he was concerned with his contract being made public for fear that negative news coverage would harm ongoing negotiations he and the Chief were having with pipeline union officials to create jobs now part of the ongoing Enbridge pipeline project. He was also concerned with the congress, “I didn’t want them getting their fingers in it” for fear the work would go to the Osage Nation Energy Services LLC and said, “it was my deal.”

Hartness said his role was “to seek out employment for Osages and Native Americans through the human resources department” and later added “Chief Red Eagle’s vision is to put people to work.” Hartness said he consulted with U.S. pipeline union 798 in Tulsa as part of his work.

Regarding his contract, Hartness said: “I’m afraid if the contract would’ve been released, people would have gotten involved (with the pipeline negotiations) and we wouldn’t have landed those jobs today … My concern was to get employment for Chief Red Eagle’s people.”

Hartness and Chief Red Eagle both cited an Osage News cartoon illustration published in March 2012 as an example of negative news coverage focused on their friendship. The cartoon features both men at the National Congress of American Indians conference where Hartness, a professional rodeo competitor, is performing rope tricks for a dinner table crowd with Chief Red Eagle in the audience.

During questioning, Hartness said he was involved in negotiations on behalf of the Nation in January, February and March of 2012, which is around the time questions were raised about his involvement with the Nation’s affairs.

Hartness was asked if news coverage surrounding his contract affected the negotiations and if he received any complaints about them. He responded: “I don’t think people in Washington were reading the papers out here,” later adding the pipeline project created 200 jobs and brought $3.4 million into the local economy.

It is unanswered whether or not the Nation received any monetary benefit from the deal or how many Osages received a union membership as a result of the deal.

Before the Hartness testimony started, Congressional Speaker Raymond Red Corn questioned whether Hartness should testify considering he appeared in the Congressional Chambers lobby area during at least two days of the trial where he sat with Chief Red Eagle. The question comes after presiding trial officer ON Supreme Court Associate Justice Jeanine Logan issued rules of sequestration to other witnesses that prohibited them from the chambers unless they were testifying.

After considering the matter, Logan said, “I’ve ruled he can testify.” She later advised Hartness of the same witness rules asking that he not discuss his testimony with anyone.

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