Osage Nation Trial Court Associate Judge Lisa Otipoby-Herbert dismissed Patricia Spurrier Bright’s request for financial records from the Osage Minerals Council on Feb. 24.
Bright, an Osage shareholder who represented herself in court, requested the general ledger of the mineral’s council’s S510 and C395 accounts under the Nation’s open records law on Oct. 16, 2016. She did not receive a response. She then filed her request to compel the OMC to produce the records in Osage Trial Court on Dec. 2, 2016.
According to the open records law, a government entity has 10 business days to reply to a request, either with the records or a letter of denial. Violation of the open records law is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, and the court also awards court costs, attorney fees and expenses.
Otipoby-Herbert said that under the open records law, the entity that would hold the OMC’s financial records would be the Osage Nation Treasurer’s Office and not the council.
Norman-based attorney David McCullough, of Saunders, Daniel & Anderson, LLP, represented the council and said that the recent ON Supreme Court ruling concerning the ethics law, in Boone, Waller, Red Corn, Cheshewalla and Erwin, Duly Elected Minerals Council Members v. The Osage Nation (2016), and ON Attorney General opinions have created a burden on the OMC to follow the Nation’s open records law. He said the OMC wanted their own independent treasurer to handle its own S510 and C395 accounts but the AG said that wouldn’t be legal under Osage law.
“We would love a court order that the Osage Minerals Council is an independent agency and is in control of its own funds, but we haven’t gotten that,” he said. “Under the open records act, we are not required to produce what we don’t have.”
He said the council does have copies of invoices but they don’t have a copy of the detailed ledger requested by Spurrier Bright.
Spurrier Bright said Osage Nation accountants assigned to the OMC used to come to the OMC’s monthly meetings and give reports on the S510 and C395 accounts but they haven’t done so in months. Former Minerals Councilman Myron Red Eagle was recognized from the gallery and he said when he was serving on the council, from 2010-2014, they gave a financial report at each monthly meeting.
“The shareholders have no idea how they’re spending the money,” she said. “We’re just worried about our money being wasted … they’ve shut us out and that’s my big complaint.”
Otipoby-Herbert asked McCullough if the relationship between the OMC and shareholders is a fiduciary responsibility? He answered “absolutely.”
“If we have a shareholder seeking information, then shouldn’t you have to respond as part of that fiduciary responsibility?” she asked.
He said he believes Osage law interferes with the minerals council’s ability to respond to requests because the information Spurrier Bright sought is with the Treasurer.
“I think the Attorney General and the Supreme Court has interfered with the Osage Minerals Council and the people who elect it,” he said. “And, has placed burdens on the council.”
Spurrier Bright said McCullough was using the recent loss in the ON Supreme Court to garner sympathy but the “shareholders like” the ruling because it makes the OMC accountable to the Nation’s ethics law. “You’re kind of picking and choosing which ones you like,” she said.
She told Otipoby-Herbert she thinks the OMC is withholding records to shareholders because they don’t want shareholders to see how much money they’ve wasted. Otipoby-Herbert said what Spurrier Bright wanted was a step beyond what they were in court to hear that day. She told Spurrier Bright to request the records from the Treasurer’s Office and then ask to be placed on the agenda for the Mineral’s Council’s next meeting.
She told Spurrier Bright she could then ask her elected representatives the questions she wanted answers to and “hold their feet to the fire.”
“I can’t give you legal advice, or what your next step would be,” Otipoby-Herbert said. “I can’t do anything more under the parameters of the case today.”