Community , Government , Legal

Sixth Osage Nation Congress dismisses Nowlin case

A lawsuit filed last year by the Fifth Osage Nation Congress against a Creek County couple has officially been dismissed.

The civil suit, filed in January 2017, Angela Pratt v. David L. Nowlin, Phyllys L. Nowlin, pertained to a five-year lease agreement, or alleged purchase, of a building in Skiatook to house the Skiatook Wah-Zha-Zhi Early Learning Academy.

The issue was whether Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear violated Osage law when he allegedly line-item shifted $250,000 from Education Department salaries and wages to a new line-item titled Capital Asset Purchase to pay for the lease, or purchase the building, without the consent of the Congress. Members of Congress have said there is language within the lease agreement that suggests the Nation purchased the building.

Both ON Attorney General Holli Wells and ON Treasurer Sam Alexander said Standing Bear acted within the law to shift the money because it was “well under the 10 percent line item restriction.” The Treasury Act was not violated, nor was the Budget Definitions Law at the time, Alexander has said.

The Congress claimed the lease, or purchase, was not valid because they did not authorize, agree to or issue the funds, even though Wells gave Standing Bear advice and consent to lease the building under the then-existing ‘safe harbor’ provisions of the Attorney General Act. The Congress claimed he acted “in excess of his authority” when he signed the lease from David and Phyllys Nowlin on June 28, 2016.

On June 20, the ON Trial Court ordered then-Speaker Angela Pratt to amend the petition and add Standing Bear as a party to the lawsuit. Six days later, on June 26, with the consent of Congressional legal counsel and the consent of seven members of the Fifth Osage Nation Congress, she directed attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, which is within the Speaker’s scope of authority according to the Congressional rules. The suit cannot be refiled.

Upon hearing of the dismissal, the Rules and Ethics Committee directed Pratt to rescind the dismissal on June 29, but she did not. Congressman RJ Walker was elected Speaker on July 14. The Appropriations Committee met on July 26 and voted to direct the Speaker to rescind the dismissal and the Congressional Affairs Committee directed the Speaker on Aug. 3 to rescind the dismissal and he did not.

ONCR 18-24

Newly-elected Congressman Eli Potts filed ONCR 18-24 at the beginning of the Tzi-Zho Session, which asked to “clarify the series of events leading up to the filing of Pratt v. Nowlin ... to state that relief sought by Pratt v. Nowlin ... has not been rendered; and to clarify for posterity the course of actions taken by the Osage Nation Congress.”

The relief Congress sought was for the lease to be rescinded, the Nowlins pay back the money for the lease, attorney fees, court costs and any other costs associated with the lawsuit. They also wanted the Trial Court to declare that “only the Osage Nation Congress can authorize or delegate the authority to purchase, lease and/or sell real property for or by the Osage Nation, and only after funds for such lease purchase have been duly properly requested and appropriated by an act of Congress.”

The will of the majority of Congress

Before the Sixth Osage Nation Congress took a vote on ONCR 18-24 on Sept. 14, individual members of Congress took to the podium to express their opinions on the resolution. Edwards had previously made an amendment to the resolution noting that Congress had spent $25,763.62 in attorney fees to Lyons and Clark Inc. for the case.

Congresswoman Pratt chose to speak against the resolution and defended her decision to dismiss the case, pointing out there was something missing from Potts’ 165-page resolution.

“There is a lot in this resolution, but there are some things missing. Specifically, and I feel importantly, is that seven members of the Fifth [Osage] Congress agreed to dismiss this lawsuit ... and now that we have a new speaker, it has been discussed to withdraw the dismissal and that has not taken place because there has not been enough members of the Sixth [Osage] Congress agree to move forward with this or to rescind the dismissal, including the current Speaker,” she said.

Pratt said she knew that $25,000 of the people’s money had been spent on the lawsuit, but to pursue the lawsuit even further would have spent even more money. After she was finished, Speaker Walker chose to speak against the resolution and agreed with Pratt. He said he too voted to initiate the lawsuit but was one of the seven Congress members who eventually chose to dismiss it because the “end game,” or the end result, wasn’t something he felt was worth spending more of the people’s money. Shortly after he was elected Speaker of the Sixth Congress, he sent out an email requesting members of Congress to weigh in on whether he should rescind the dismissal of Pratt v. Nowlin and he did not receive the support needed to dismiss the case, he said.

“I feel like I’ve carried out the will of the majority of the Congress,” he said.

Potts was the last to speak at the podium, in favor of the resolution. He said he wrote the resolution to let the public know what had transpired and said “it was supposed to be informative, but as many of you are aware, the desire for it to go away has created something more. It is the opposite of informative. So, in keeping with the tradition of short comments, I ask today that you let my silence speak for itself.”

He said he wasn’t going to explore the details of the resolution any further because there were enough people who wanted the lawsuit dismissed.

“I believe there are plenty of people who have voiced their desire for this resolution to go away and I agree, it’s inconvenient, as the truth sometimes is,” he said.  

ONCR 18-24 came to a vote and failed, with Congress members Archie Mason, Pratt, Stabler, BigHorse, Goodfox, Brandy Lemon, John Maker and Speaker Walker voting “no.” Potts, Edwards, Whitehorn and Tillman voted “yes.”

A second resolution pertaining to the deed of the Skiatook WELA property, ONCR 18-22, sponsored by Speaker Walker and co-sponsored by Potts, requests the title to the Skiatook WELA property from the Hilton Law Office. The resolution is currently in the Governmental Operations Committee and will be discussed Sept. 24 at 1 p.m.