Government , Business

Simms gives a casino update and Bills asks Congress for a commitment

The Fifth Osage Nation Congress voted to confirm two Osages to business board positions for three-year terms during the Hun-Kah Session.

On April 11, the Congress voted unanimously to confirm Kay Bills to the Tallgrass Economic Development LLC Board for her inaugural board term. The Congress also voted to reconfirm former ON Congressman Mark Simms to the Gaming Enterprise Board where he serves as chairman.

Both Bills and Simms appeared before the Congress on Day 14 of the Hun-Kah Session to give statements and took questions before the 12-member Congress voted on the confirmations.

Simms, who has served on the gaming board since 2014, told Congress he is pleased to serve on the five-member board at an “exciting time.” Simms also said, “we’re at a critical point” with pending land-into-trust applications for new Pawhuska and Bartlesville Osage Casino properties and he is pleased with business under newer fellow board members and casino management who are Osage tribal members.

Congressman William “Kugee” Supernaw asked Simms about spending regarding the ongoing Tulsa casino expansion project after Simms said the project is currently under budget. “If we can come in under budget and save some money, that money could go back to the Nation, but if we go ahead and spend it because it’s available, I would like to see that it is spent, that it’s spent on things that are going to pay for itself,” Supernaw said.

Simms said the Tulsa casino and hotel will need a parking garage and that will be submitted in an amended annual gaming plan of operation for the Congress to consider. Simms said the garage is “for the safety of patrons who come in because it’s spread out so much … with this parking garage, it will be easier to monitor without (customers) having their cars broke into.”

On April 7, the gaming board met in an emergency meeting to consider amending its annual gaming plan of operations, which will be considered by the Congress before the Hun-Kah Session ends. The gaming board voted 4-0 to approve the amended plan with one absence from board member John “Trey” Goldesberry.

Simms received his confirmation vote with 10 “yes” votes and absences from Congress members Archie Mason and Shannon Edwards.

Kay Bills

Also on April 11, the Congress voted on confirming Bills for the Tallgrass Economic Development Board. Bills also addressed the Congress before the vote.

“I’m going to ask for a commitment from all of you …  I want you to know me before you vote for me because what you see is what you’re going to get,” Bills told Congress. “I’ve had a long career, I left Osage County over 40 years ago. As part of that trip, I managed to go into education then to business - it’s quite a journey coming back to Grayhorse (District).”

Bills shared the challenges of working in Washington, D.C. where she encouraged the government to use Native businesses. Another challenge she faced was “convincing Indians to use Indians” in their businesses.

Bills said to the Congress: “I need a commitment from everyone in this room that yes we’re going to hire Indians and yes, we’re going to have a successful business and yes, we’re not going to ever accept that the Indian business is less superior.”

Bills’ confirmation fills the board vacancy left by outgoing member David Stewart and comes as Tallgrass LLC moves its business strategy to seek 8(a) contract work with government and military entities.

Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn said she is looking forward to Bills’ contributions as a board member, adding “I think we need a big shot in the arm.”

Congressional Speaker Angela Pratt said she supports hiring Osages, but added in response to Bills’ address: “I want to make it clear that I don’t do any hiring for the businesses,” noting there is an Osage preference in hiring tribal law.

Bills received a unanimous confirmation vote from the Congress with nine “yes” votes and three absences from Mason, RJ Walker and Shannon Edwards.