An Osage Nation government reorganization impacting selected departments and budgets in four divisions narrowly passed during the ON Congressional Hun-Kah Session on April 24.
Presented by the Executive Branch to the Congress in four separate bills, the reorganization impacts ON government divisions including: Governmental Operations; Child, Family and Senior Community Services; Land, Commerce and Public Safety; and Health Fitness and Wellness. The reorganization impacts include the shifting of selected departments and programs and these changes will take effect in June after Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed the three bills into law on April 28.
Those reorganization bills passed by majority vote are ONCA 15-36, ONCA 15-37, ONCA 15-38 and ONCA 15-40. In total, five reorganization bills were filed with the Congress, but the fifth bill proposing a reorganization of the Cultural Preservation, Arts, Heritage, and Language Division, was voted down. That bill (ONCA 15-34) proposed hiring a cultural department director to oversee the Osage Tribal Museum, Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center, Historic Preservation Office and the Language Department.
After debate on the timing of the reorganization, information available on the proposal and costs, the roll call vote on the three government reorganization bills resulted in 6-6 tie Congressional votes but each passed with tie-breaking “yes” votes from Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn.
The three identical 6-6 tie votes resulted with “yes” votes from Congress members RJ Walker, Otto Hamilton, John Maker, Archie Mason, James Norris and Ron Shaw. “No” votes came from William “Kugee” Supernaw, Alice Buffalohead, Shannon Edwards, John Jech, Angela Pratt and Speaker Maria Whitehorn.
The Congress voted down ONCA 15-34 by majority. The vote failed with nine “no” votes and three “yes” votes from Maker, Hamilton and Mason.
The vote on the five government reorganization bills occurred on the second to last business day of the 24-day Congressional Hun-Kah Session after action was tabled on the bills several times pending receipt of more information on the Nation’s finances and proposed reorganization details before the bills were passed out of their respective Congressional committees for floor votes on April 24.
ON government reorganization
On April 20, the Executive Branch sent an organization chart to the Congress showing the reorganization changes, which include:
- Moving the Tribal Development and Land Acquisition Department to the Governmental Operations Division from the Land, Commerce and Public Safety Division.
- The Housing Department is dissolved and the programs formerly managed by it will be moved including: Senior Housing and Housing Assistant (Rehab) will be moved to the Tribal Works Department; also the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) programs will be moved to Financial Assistance (formerly the TANF office).
- The Women Infants Children (WIC) and Elder Nutrition will move under the Health Fitness and Wellness Division from Child, Family and Senior Community Services.
Also, the Gaming Commission board proposed the elimination of 31 positions, thereby reducing the office operations by $1.1 million this fiscal year. As of April, the Gaming Commission had 118 employees, board chairwoman Marsha Harlan told the Congressional Governmental Operations Committee during session.
The $1.1 million in cuts includes nearly $383,000 in salaries and other budgeted expenses including travel, employee benefits, conference/ special meeting costs and $45,000 in professional fees, according to support documentation for the cuts.
Harlan told the Congressional committee she and the other newly seated Gaming Commission board members would take another look at the operations budget to look for potential cuts last year and she discussed the proposed cuts along with the board attorney Eugene Bertman who also examined the commission finances and told the committee the finance records showed nearly $1 million in budgeted operation funds were unspent in each of the last two fiscal years.
In a statement regarding the Gaming Commission reorganization, Harlan said: “The reduction in budget is the result of our efforts to look at the functions of the Commission and efficiently and effectively use the (Osage) people’s money… (The ON Gaming Commission board) reviewed the duties of each tier of the ONGC and determined there was some repetition with regard to assigned duties and that there were opportunities to more efficiently use staff.” Harlan also told the Congressional committee there will be a priority placed on retaining qualified Osages for employment and the Human Resources department will help affected employees by finding them other ON government jobs, where possible.
The cultural departments’ reorganization in ONCA 15-34 drew Congressional members’ attention during committee meetings because the proposed new cultural department director position would be drawing an $85,000 annual salary, which would be $98,289 with benefits, according to the Executive Branch.
Reorganization bills debated
On April 24, the Congress members debated the pros and cons of the reorganization bills before the 7-6 votes. Buffalohead said she supported the Executive Branch’s right to reorganize, but said “now is not the time,” citing budget concerns.
Buffalohead said “the main reason I am against reorg-ing right now is because we don’t know what the numbers are going to look like in the fall.” She said she preferred the Executive Branch handle the reorganization and any cuts without Congressional permission then present the plans in a summer special session or during the fall Tzi-Zho Session and then she would support it.
Edwards voiced concerns with the Nation’s finances and available funding and also questioned the timing of the reorganization since it required moving budgets around. Edwards also agreed with Buffalohead regarding the reorganization stating: “There is no reason that the Executive Branch of our government cannot (reorganize and eliminate jobs) without the vote of the (Congress).”
Walker said he would vote “no” for ONCA 15-34 but would support the remaining four bills. He said the cost in savings for the Nation by passing the reorganization bills would be $250,000-$300,000 if all pass.
Hamilton said he supports the reorganization bills, adding “nobody likes bureaucracy, but there’s bureaucracy in all these programs and I believe these reorganization bills are taking down the walls for efficiency and the Chief has a vision and I support that.”
Whitehorn said she did not believe she had a “full picture” of the reorganization if it occurs in modules. “It’s the Chief’s right and his duty to reorg and run the Executive Branch … It’s our duty to make sure we understand how Osage Nation money is being spent because it’s tight right now and I don’t have a clear picture of how it’s going to move forward in the future for our limited funding sources,” she said.
Pratt, who agreed to courtesy sponsor ONCA 15-36 for the Executive Branch said she would be voting “no” for the reorganization because the proposed idea was “presented as a packaged deal” and there were some changes she does not agree with after hearing details during committee meetings.
With the 7-6 vote, the four bills ONCA 15-36, 15-37, 15-38 and 15-40 will take effect in June since the bills passed with no immediate/ emergency alternate date. All bills passed by Congress become law 60 days after enactment if no alternate date is written in the bill, according to the Osage Constitution.