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Minerals Council forges ahead with salary increases

In a contentious July 8 special meeting, the council has instructed their Chief of Staff to work with the ON Treasurer on finding the money to pay the increases

The Minerals Council is forging ahead with its request for more compensation. However, not every council member is on board.

During a special meeting on July 8, the discussion about raises, council income, grant income and work rendered by council members over the years came to a boiling point when Councilmen Paul Revard and Talee Redcorn began to shout at each other. Both men are on opposite sides of the issue, with Revard in support and Redcorn against.

At the end of the meeting, the Council voted to proceed and instructed their Chief of Staff Lacee Reynolds to meet with ON Treasurer Clark Batson about what is needed to raise their salaries to that of the Osage Nation Congress. Council members who voted yes were Chairman Everett Waller, Vice Chairman Myron Red Eagle, Paul Revard, Joe Cheshewalla, and Stephanie Erwin. Voting no was Councilman Anthony Shackelford. Councilman Kenny Bighorse abstained and Redcorn left the meeting before the vote.

The subject of pay raises first arose in May when newly appointed Councilwoman Stephanie Erwin motioned to increase their salaries as her first act of business. The council voted 5-2 with one absence, to increase their pay to $77,000, which is what the ON Congress members will make after July 13. Voting no for the increase at the time were Councilmen Anthony Shackelford and Redcorn and Councilman Kenny Bighorse was absent.

Compensation Packages

Unlike other elected officials, the Minerals Council can increase or decrease their stipends or salaries whenever they like. The Osage Nation Constitution prevents sitting elected officials of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches from raising their pay. For example, Congress voted to raise their pay in 2022 but it won’t go into effect until the next Congress is sworn in on July 13. The same for the Office of the Chiefs, their salaries can be raised but the raises won’t go into effect until after the next general election.

According to the Osage Nation Congress’ legislative counsel, the compensation package for a Congress member after July 13 is a yearly salary of $77,000, plus health benefits from the Nation’s provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield. Elected officials, in both the Congress and Executive Branch, can opt to receive the monetary equivalent of the health insurance package. The Speaker and Second Speaker of the Congress each receive an additional annual expense allowance of $3,000, paid in equal pay period installments.

Members of Congress cannot be employed or do business with the Osage Nation, but they are allowed full-time employment elsewhere. The money that pays for the Congress’ salaries comes from the Nation’s gaming operations. The Congress voted to increase their salaries in 2022, from $65,000 to $77,000.

Minerals Council members currently receive a $31,000 yearly stipend. They are allowed to be employed by the Osage Nation and do business with the Nation. Two councilmen are currently employed by the Nation, Redcorn and Shackelford.

Money for the council’s stipends comes from a yearly drawdown from Minerals Estate royalty payments of $1 million, which is placed into the council’s C395 account. This account handles all the council’s operational expenses, such as paying the council’s stipends, paying their staff, paying rent to the Nation for office space and legal fees. The council also has a second account, S510, which holds the council’s income, such as revenue from map sales.

The council’s current yearly cost of stipends is approximately $248,000. With the increase in salaries, the yearly cost would be approximately $616,000.

Councilman Redcorn, who sat on the first Osage Minerals Council in 2006, said when he was first elected their annual stipends were around $22,000 to $24,000. But he couldn’t remember the exact number.

“We asked the 31st Tribal Council how much of their time was spent on minerals issues. They said around 30% or 40%. So, we took that and multiplied it times what they were getting at that time,” Redcorn said. “At that time, it was $22,000-$24,000. So that’s how we came up with that value, so it’s progressively been raised over the years.”

Independence

Councilman Redcorn brought up the issue of the council’s independence. He said most of their yearly allocation goes to their stipends, paying their four-person staff and attorney fees. He said any extra money for the proposed raises would have to come from Congress.

“I’ve got questions, I’m not saying I’ve got solutions, but I’ve got questions,” Redcorn said. “Are they gonna say, ‘Here’s the money for the salaries and here’s what you have to do with it.’ Because this is Nation money, that’s a concern of mine. We’ve always kind of rolled independent, now we’ve just walked straight into the arms of the Nation.”

Erwin disagreed. She said the council made millions for the Nation in grants, especially for the recent well-plugging grant of $19 million. “They’ve kind of took advantage of the work by this Minerals Council to get that grant,” she said.   

Revard, who has sat on the council for six years, said the council has never asked Congress to pay their salaries, but they have asked for appropriations for development and legal fees. He said it was a “very fair” salary for the amount of work they did to lobby for the grant the Nation won. He also said the council wouldn’t need to ask Congress for their salaries if they were to be reimbursed for their legal fees.

“We paid one lawyer over [$3.6] million since I’ve been on the council,” Revard said. “We paid another law firm recently $577,000, which we paid out of our own C395 budget. If anything, why don’t we ask the Nation to reimburse us for these legal fees?”

Redcorn agreed and disagreed with Erwin and Revard, and then reiterated, “Did we just give away our independence by asking Congress to pay our salaries, with benefits?”

The Osage News asked Treasurer Batson if the council has begun to receive the increased salary amount because according to the Tulsa World, the council has been receiving the increased salary amount since June 14. Batson said he had no comment on the matter.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on July 10 to include information from the ON Constitution.

Author

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Shannon Shaw Duty
Shannon Shaw Dutyhttps://osagenews.org

Title: Editor

Email: sshaw@osagenation-nsn.gov

Twitter: @dutyshaw

Topic Expertise: Columnist, Culture, Community

Languages spoken: English, Osage (intermediate), Spanish (beginner)

Shannon Shaw Duty, Osage from the Grayhorse District, is the editor of the award-winning Osage News, the official independent media of the Osage Nation. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Legal Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Peoples Law. She currently sits on the Freedom of Information Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served as a board member for LION Publishers, as Vice President for the Pawhuska Public Schools Board of Education, on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (now Indigenous Journalists Association) and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive NAJA's Elias Boudinot Free Press Award. The Osage News won Best Newspaper from the SPJ-Oklahoma Chapter in their division 2018-2022. Her award-winning work has been published in Indian Country Today, The Washington Post, the Center for Public Integrity, NPR, the Associated Press, Tulsa World and others. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and together they share six children, two dogs and two cats.
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