Government , Minerals Council

Council requests accounting data after quarterly check amounts come into question

After two late headright payments and a delayed announcement on the March check amounts, the Osage Minerals Council is asking the Department of Interior to start providing more accounting data.

“I don’t know if things are rumors or reality … but I need more than a letter,” Councilwoman Marsha Harlan said at the council’s Feb. 19 meeting. “I have no reason not to trust the OST, but I need to see some hard proof.”

A flurry of questions began after the council’s staff confirmed that the payment numbers they received from the Osage Agency were substantially different from its own in-house records, thus preventing the announcement at the time of March’s headright payment amount.

The Osage Agency is one of a handful of sites nationally that still relies on having someone manually match checks generated by trust land activity with invoices, then credit individual accounts with that revenue, plus any interest accrued. Those checks are supposed to be matched and deposited within 48 hours of hitting the lockbox.

According to the Office of the Special Trustee, if a check sits in the agency’s lockbox for more than 48 hours, the person responsible for manually entering the check amount is supposed to also include any interest it would have accrued had it been posted faster.

More than $2 million was deposited in the Osage Agency’s lockbox on Dec. 20, 2019. However, that money was not formally processed until Jan. 3, 2020, prompting questions about potential missed income on the March check.

“What’s really disheartening for me is that I’m sitting here in this meeting as superintendent as the Osage Agency and a fiduciary trust officer and this has all been news to me,” Robin Phillips said. “We will talk about this with the Albuquerque office.”  

This marks the third consecutive quarter where there have been concerns about timely headright checks. The December shareholder checks were not sent out simultaneously, prompting a flurry of questions from shareholders and councilors alike. October’s headright checks were delayed by OST due to the implementation of a new accounting system.

After the meeting, the council announced that the March payment will be $3,570 for a full headright. A spokeswoman for the Office of the Special Trustee confirmed on March 2 that the payments were posted to IIM accounts Feb. 28.

“I appreciate the honesty of the OST employees who said there were checks in the lockbox that weren’t cashed,” Councilwoman Margo Gray said. “But this needs to be added to our consultation agenda so it can be addressed. It makes no sense to still be going through a lockbox.”