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Osage Congress votes to reclassify Gaming Commission report during special session

After a 3-hour executive session, the Congress voted 10-2 to reclassify the records which Congressman Eli Potts called “appalling”

In a single-day Special Session, the Eighth Osage Nation Congress voted to reclassify a confidential Gaming Commission report as a public document that focuses on Osage Casino management expenses.

The 12-person Congress convened on Nov. 22 for the special session called by legislative proclamation with more than two-thirds of members signing the written request in accordance with the Osage Constitution. Congress delayed the special session by one day so members could attend the funeral for Grayhorse District elder and former Osage Tribal Councilman Jerry Shaw.

The single item of consideration listed on the proclamation is “Reclassification of Records pursuant to (Osage law).” According to the Nation’s code, “the body of Congress may reclassify as public any document marked as protected, confidential, proprietary or nonpublic after providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to interested parties in executive session and upon an affirmative vote of the majority of the Members of Congress in a regular or special session, except for protected records.”

The reclassification item refers to the “Gaming Commission Report Discussion,” which was held during two meetings of the Congressional Commerce, Gaming and Land Committee in two closed-door executive sessions on Nov. 2 and Oct. 19.

The special session’s public portion lasted about seven minutes before the entire Congress voted to move into executive session to discuss the report with Gaming Commission officials attending the special session.

At the start, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear issued a brief executive message stating his office was notified of the special session but had no other information. “We have no other documentation on this, no legislation, we have no supporting documents received from Congress or anyone for that matter and that is the situation from the Executive Branch.”

Congressional Speaker Alice Goodfox also issued her legislative message stating the discussion on the topic started with the former Seventh ON Congress not receiving requested documents. “We moved through the Eighth Osage Nation Congress to get an Attorney General’s opinion that said we were allowed to see these documents as was the Executive Branch, we have them and we’ve worked with the Gaming Commission to receive them and they were stamped ‘confidential’ and this body, some members (I have not spoken to everyone), feel that these documents should be not confidential and the public be allowed to see them and that is why we are here today, so let’s get to work,” Goodfox said.

Afterward, Goodfox asked for a motion to enter executive session to discuss “confidential and proprietary matters” with the Gaming Commission report. Also attending were Gaming Commission Board members Gary Weyl, Tammy Baldauff and Marsha Harlan. Gaming Commission Executive Director Elizabeth Hembree and Gaming Commission legal counsel Eugene Bertman was also present.

The Gaming Commission board met in an emergency meeting one day prior regarding the report. Hembree said the board voted 3-0 to release the report to Congress as the Legislative Branch requested.

Also in anticipation of the special session, the Gaming Enterprise Board met for a Nov. 15 meeting with an executive session held for “legal advice.” On Nov. 21, the gaming board met again to formally approve a written response letter with their signatures to the Congress, which was marked as a confidential document for use during the special session. 

After nearly three hours, Congress ended the executive session and reconvened in a public meeting that lasted three minutes.

Congressman Eli Potts asked to be recognized and stated: “I’d like to make a motion to reclassify the Osage Nation Gaming Commission report to the Osage Nation Congress dated Sept. 21, 2022, and all supporting documents submitted with the report as public information in accordance with Osage law.”

The motion received a second from Congresswoman Jodie Revard and passed with a 10-2 vote. “Yes” votes came from Congress members Otto Hamilton, Brandy Lemon, John Maker, Eli Potts, Whitney Red Corn, Revard, Paula Stabler, Joe Tillman, Scott BigHorse and Goodfox. “No” votes came from Billy Keene and Pam Shaw.  

Potts said “the biggest takeaway is we want transparency and accountability” in making the motion. “We’ve been in view of these reports for a while and it’s pretty appalling. It’s the first step in holding people accountable for expenditures that have gotten out of control.”

The Osage News made an open records request for the report following the special session under Osage law. Potts noted the report is hundreds of pages long and would need a review by legal counsel for redacting sensitive information that is protected by Osage law.

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Benny Polacca
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.

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