For what is believed to be the first time, an Osage woman has been elected to the Pawhuska City Council.
Susan Bayro, 43, the Osage Nation’s strategic planning analyst, has been working hand-in-hand with the city and other governments for years to establish more cooperative and collaborative relationships that benefit all.
And that is what she wants to continue to do in a larger way from her perch in the Ward 2 City Council seat.
During her three-year term, she wants to:
- Map the city’s infrastructure to determine its condition, a map that will give the city an organized approach to addressing deteriorating water, wastewater and other systems and to repair them in phases.
- Conduct a feasibility study of housing and neighborhoods in Pawhuska to determine what housing needs it has as it faces a potential influx of residents.
- Form a plan and start executing road and sidewalk repairs throughout the city.
“I’m the sort of person who goes off a plan,” Bayro said. “I have to have a plan to go off of.”
For years, the city and its main employer – the Osage Nation – suffered from a disconnect and, occasionally, discord. Communication was lackluster and every time a new city manager was hired, the direction the city would take would veer off in a new direction.
Because of her job with the Nation, Bayro was always around, gently pushing and reminding city leaders that the tribe could help.
And, in fact, it has.
Bayro worked with the Nation and city to install broadband in downtown Pawhuska and worked with the state Department of Environmental Quality to smooth the city’s water and wastewater operations by establishing policies, templates and software that helped organize work and “make informed decisions based on costs and conditions. They didn’t have that before.” The change meant that employee turnover doesn’t lead to chaos, that one person can easily take up where another left off, she said.
She has also worked with Indian Health Service, which has funneled about $500,000 through the Nation to fix the city’s 2-million-gallon water tank, repair the dam at Lake Pawhuska, and perform water and wastewater work in residential areas.
The huge and aging tank had trees growing through it, but IHS provided engineering and helped fund repairs that “made it maintainable,” Bayro said.
Other opportunities abound, she noted: She and the city are currently working with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board which, for free, will map the water and wastewater lines to determine the condition of the systems.
“We don’t really know the condition of the infrastructure until we go in and do smoke tests and see what’s going on down there,” she said. “Once we know, we can adopt a phased approach that we can follow.”
Bayro said that streets and sidewalks can be repaired with federal money through the American Rescue Plan Act, another project that the tribe and city could cooperatively pursue.
“I’ve been working with the city on multiple projects with the Osage Nation and the City of Pawhuska, trying to build the relationship between us,” she said.
The effort started with a program called Smart Growth, which brought many players – city, county, Osage Nation, Rural Utility Services, DEQ, businesses and so forth – together to hash out problems and match those problems to funding sources that could provide a solution.
“That had never been done before,” Bayro said. “Based on the turnover rate with city managers, it was hard to make traction.”
Bayro ran for the Ward 2 seat last year after its former occupant, Jourdan Foran, moved from Pawhuska. She lost that race to Amber Nash, but this go-round won handily with 58.3 percent of the vote in a low-turnout election. The vote total: 161 for Bayro to 115 for Nash who sought to retain the seat.
Bayro has a master’s degree in International Business with a minor in marketing. She is married to a city of Pawhuska firefighter, Mike Bayro, with whom she has two sons. Her father Jesse Abrams was a longtime employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Osage Agency.
She takes office in May.
According to a report in December by the Brookings Institution, Native American voters are wielding increasing power at the polls, especially Native women. On the federal level, Native Americans have been elected to office at unprecedented rates. Locally, the group Osage Impact was very active in informing tribal members and getting out the vote in 2018 and 2020 tribal, state and other elections. Osage Impact was not involved in Bayro’s campaign.