Government , Business

Osage Congress passes sovereign immunity waiver for payroll service contract

After a one-day session, the Fifth Osage Nation Congress adjourned the fourth special session on Dec. 27 after passing a resolution for a sovereign immunity waiver in a contract with an outside company to handle ON government employee payroll services.

According to the resolution (ONCR 17-09 sponsored by Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt) the Congress is authorizing a limited waiver of sovereign immunity from suit, and consent to jurisdiction to PayCom for payroll services by contract. Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed the resolution the day after session ended.

The Osage Constitution states the Nation’s instrumentalities shall be immune from suit or process in any forum “except to the extent that the (ON) Congress expressly waives its sovereign immunity.”

Standing Bear said Oklahoma City-based PayCom was the successful bidder for providing human resources and payroll services for the Nation’s government. He also noted there is no appropriation request for the contract with PayCom since the money was already appropriated in the 2017 fiscal year annual budget.

ON Assistant Attorney General Jeff Jones worked on the PayCom contract with Human Resources Director Scott Johnson and said PayCom would be handling the Nation’s payroll services, which are currently done in-house “with a fairly antiquated software program.” The resolution and information regarding PayCom services were discussed during a Congressional governmental operations committee meeting also held that day.

Johnson said the Nation’s current payroll software system was installed in 1999. He also told the committee the PayCom software is capable of running reports for various data and can also store applicant resumes online, which can be updated by applicants after they apply for a job online. 

“This (PayCom) system will be more than just a payroll system – It will manage the whole HR system from the time we advertise a position … all the way until we pay them, terminate them. It will also run all of our health benefits,” Johnson told the Congressional governmental operations committee that day. Johnson said nine companies responded to the Nation’s request for proposals (RFP) process and after PayCom was selected, the sovereign immunity waiver issue was raised during the contract drafting.

Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead, a former Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino HR employee, noted HR systems are “costly, but they’re needed and in the long run, the benefit outweighs the cost as things are done quickly and it’s able to spit out reports that are needed in order for us to forecast and to make good decisions.”

For the sovereign immunity waiver issue, Jones said PayCom would not agree to a contract without the waiver, which subjects the Nation to Oklahoma state and federal court jurisdiction in the event of litigation arising out of the contract.

Beau DeArmon, a PayCom representative, told the committee, the company’s software is web-based and the Nation controls the transactions as payroll is paid out to employees. PayCom costs for the Nation includes payroll fees per pay period and an annual cost, he said. DeArmon said 50 different Oklahoma tribes and tribal casinos also use PayCom’s services including the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Buffalo Run Casino (Peoria Tribe), Pawnee Nation and Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes.  

Johnson said the Nation is proposing to use electronic time clocks to keep track of employee work hours, including biometric ones in ON offices, which measure employees’ hands through computer log-on and off methods. He also noted the time clock methods are choices the Nation would make and the employee work hour data would then be given to PayCom for payroll processing.

After discussion, the special session reconvened and ONCR 17-09 passed with an 8-1 vote with a “no” vote from Buffalohead and absences from Congress members Maria Whitehorn, Shannon Edwards and Ron Shaw.

Throughout the years, the Congress has rarely approved waivers of sovereign immunity. Jones recalled recent events, which included a 2016 contract with a Missouri company for pharmaceutical billing at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Health Center; drug court with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; and with Bank of Oklahoma for the loan to purchase the Bluestem Ranch.