Government , Legal

Select Committee of Inquiry bars colleagues from attending executive sessions

Photo caption: The Congressional Select Committee of Inquiry, from left: Alice Goodfox (chair), Archie Mason, Joe Tillman, Paula Stabler and RJ Walker. Osage News

A new precedent has been set as the Select Committee of Inquiry begins their investigation into allegations made against Congresswoman Shannon Edwards.

The SCOI voted unanimously on April 24 to bar Edwards, her legal counsel and the rest of the Sixth Osage Nation Congress members from attending their deliberations in executive session. Congresswoman Paula Stabler put forth the motion.

“So, the motion was developed over going off the path of removal. Now, the past removal course, it was not a member of Congress, so that was a tricky part to consider. So, I put this motion forward because the deliberations are so close to us and I thought it was following what you all did before,” Stabler said. “So, I am willing to hear from the committee. If we need to modify it so that members can attend and not speak, that’s one thing, but I think the main concern was just that the closeness of members to Shannon [Edwards]. I mean, not just a select few, all of us. Being in that same body with someone who’s facing this.”

The move by the SCOI didn’t come without protest. Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn and Congressman Eli Potts repeatedly asked the SCOI to reconsider, to re-examine the Congressional Rules. At times, Potts became loud and he and the SCOI chair, Congresswoman Alice Goodfox, spoke over each other as she tried to regain order of the meeting.

Whitehorn and Potts sit on the Congressional Appropriations, Congressional Affairs and Education committees together, along with Edwards. The three members of Congress are known to vote together, both in committee and on the floor of the Congress. 

Whitehorn, who served on the SCOI for the investigation of former Principal Chief John Red Eagle in 2014, said the 2014 SCOI made only one rule.

“They [Congress members] were allowed to be there, they could choose to be there, the rule that we made was that they weren’t allowed to join in discussion unless they were asked to join the discussion,” Whitehorn said. “And I think that’s the only rule that select committee passed.”

Potts said he would challenge the committee if they voted to bar other members of Congress from their executive session deliberations. Goodfox said “Okay.”

“Madam chair, if I may explain, members of Congress should not be excluded from deliberations of the hearing. I’m not saying we should be able to talk ...” he said before Goodfox interrupted.

“The members of Congress in the last committee of inquiry were never allowed in deliberations to also deliberate with the committee,” she said. “They were allowed to sit in, they were allowed to be included in discussion of the committee of inquiry, which was established by the judicial branch of the Osage Nation, but they were never allowed to sit in and deliberate with the committee.”

Congressman Joe Tillman asked the opinion of the committee’s legal counsel, William Grimm of Tulsa-based Barrow & Grimm.

Congressional rule 5.14 says executive session “is only the members, and I would read that as only the members of the [SCOI] committee and invited persons. If the committee wants to invite all the members of Congress, then that’s within their discretion,” he said. “The situation I have is I’ve been hired by the committee and that’s the attorney-client privilege I have. If you open it up to third parties, there may not be a privilege associated with that. That’s the only concern I would have.”

Goodfox called for the vote and the vote was unanimous in favor of barring Edwards, he legal counsel and the rest of the 6th Osage Nation Congress from the committee’s executive session deliberations.

The five members of Congress who make up the SCOI investigating Edwards are Goodfox (chair), Stabler, RJ Walker, Joe Tillman and Archie Mason. Both Goodfox and Mason served on the 2014 SCOI that investigated Red Eagle who was ultimately removed. Goodfox also served as chair for that SCOI committee and Mason served as vice chair.  

 

[CORRECTION: This article was corrected to reflect Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn, Congresswoman Shannon Edwards and Congressman Eli Potts don’t vote in a block, but have been known to vote together. The Osage News regrets the error.]