Among the finer points of law is the difference between the terms “interim” and “acting,” and the distinction prompted a committee of the Osage Nation Congress to table a bill on April 1 that would give tribal employees a 10 percent cost-of-living adjustment.
Raises of some sort are still on the table but the mechanism by which they could be delivered remains to be determined.
The legal nitpicking by the congressional Appropriations Committee centered on the fact that Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, who proposed the staff-wide raise, named Tyler McIntosh as acting treasurer to ease the process.
The “acting” title means that McIntosh is not formally qualified to be treasurer because he is not a certified public accountant; Congresswoman Alice Goodfox questioned whether the raise would be legal because of that, noting that “interim” legally means that an appointee is qualified but temporary.
Last month, when he made the raise proposal, Standing Bear predicted that Congress would balk but said he believed that legally there was no need to have a treasurer in place because the merit law that governs the cost-of-living adjustment doesn’t require the treasurer to make the recommendation, but the “Office of the Treasury.”
The law, verbatim: “Merited employees of the Osage Nation shall be eligible upon hire for inflation adjustments. Inflation adjustments shall … [b]e a percentage increase given to all merited employees determined by the Office of the Treasury and approved by Congress to be in effect no more often than once every twelve (12) months.”
The Osage Nation has not had a treasurer for a year except for McIntosh in the acting role. He has been the tribe’s controller since June 2021. The Nation has repeatedly advertised for a treasurer but only when it nearly doubled the amount of pay to around $200,000 a year did it draw two applications from CPAs; neither followed up to pursue the job.
The chief appoints the treasurer subject to Congress’s approval – and no one yet knows who the chief will become in July because the chief’s position is up for election.
The raise is far from dead: Congress is asking the Attorney General’s office for an opinion that could give legislators a thumbs-up to approve the raise. During the Appropriations Committee meeting April 1, members generally voiced support for the increase, and suggested that Congress could simply pass a bill to increase pay across the board without calling it an “inflation adjustment.”
“I would like to do this,” said Congressman R.J. Walker. “I just don’t know if this is the appropriate way to do it.”
McIntosh, who joined the meeting from his car, said that thanks to job vacancies, the Nation could fund the raises with the fringe benefits without requiring new appropriations.
When he proposed the 10 percent raise last month, Standing Bear pointed to the 8 percent inflation rate that predated the war in Ukraine that has since driven up the price of gas to near-record prices and threatens to push up the cost of grain, meat and other food.
Standing Bear said he thought 10 percent was a reasonable increase given the current inflation rate, and that a further increase could be examined if needed when the tribe’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Cost of living raises can only be doled out once every fiscal year by Osage law.