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Tallgrass LLC lays off two high-profile Osage employees to cut back on costs

Tony Whitehorn and Susan Elliott are the latest to be let go amidst the Tallgrass Economic Development LLC’s attempt to right the ship that was headed for financial disaster.

According to Jim Parris, Chairman for the Tallgrass LLC board of directors, Whitehorn and Elliott’s salaries were higher than the average for the Tulsa area, considering the work they were performing. He declined to go into specifics of their salary amounts. The decision to lay off Whitehorn and Elliott was made on April 26 at their regular board meeting, which was conducted via teleconference.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to conserve our spending and control our expenses until we’re ready to move ahead and implement our business plan,” Parris said. “Right now, we’re having to reduce cash flow where we can … live within our means basically, and conserve spending.”

Whitehorn, Osage, was serving as the Operating General Manager of Tallgrass Support Services and Tallgrass Technology Solutions. Elliott, Osage and a CPA, was serving as the Corporate Controller. Parris said he and the remaining board members, Kay Bills and Patsy Stuke, have hired the firm Finley & Cook to be acting CFO for Tallgrass and the firm is “stepping in on a part-time basis.” They have also hired David Cook to take over Whitehorn’s projects.

Cook will move forward with the Grayhorse and Bowring broadband project, which is possible due to a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, matching money from the Osage Nation, and the utilization of the Osage Nation’s Information Technology department and the Osage Utility Authority Board. He will also oversee the installation and integration of audio and visual equipment for the new Tulsa Osage Casino, among other projects.

Osage Congresswoman Shannon Edwards sponsored legislation requesting $50,000 each be given to the Tallgrass LLC and Osage LLC board members for stipends during the March Hun-Kah Session. The request was denied. The Congress also did not confirm Parris for another term on the Osage LLC board.

Janice Dearman, who was serving as CEO for Tallgrass, officially resigned on April 20. This is her second resignation as CEO from Tallgrass.


The Tallgrass LLC board of directors currently has enough board members for a quorum, but the board still needs two board members to fill out the five-member board. Megan Cruz and Kay Martin resigned in April. Parris said Standing Bear has not indicated whether he’ll be appointing two board members soon. In a phone interview, Standing Bear said he will not be appointing any new board members to the Tallgrass LLC in the near term. He said they have enough for a quorum: Parris, Bills and Stuke.

Attending the April 26 teleconference call were all three board members, two members of the Osage Congress, Maria Whitehorn (older sister of Tony Whitehorn) and William “Kugee” Supernaw. From the Chief’s Office was Corey Lorenzo, assistant chief of staff. Also in attendance was Paul Bemore of the ON Utility Authority, Bob Johnson, Jeff O’Brien – Tallgrass Contractor, Dustin Alphin – Tallgrass Manager, Tony Whitehorn and Elliott.

Alphin reported he had a total of 17 projects and seven of those projects are 90 percent complete. Three are 80 percent complete, one is 50 percent complete, two are 20 percent complete and 3 are 10 percent or less. He said there are three new proposed projects.

Whitehorn reported they are working to provide online training for 10 employees under a G-6 project. A subcontract was being concluded at the end of April. At the new Tulsa Osage Casino, they had already installed 100 speakers and were working on installing about 150 more. They were awarded the project to install the fire alarms and Audio/Visual installation for the parking garage and he was waiting to hear about the hospitality suites. He had received the bid for the event center, with approximately $330,000 left to bill on the current projects. The broadband projects were close to finalizing the route and he was working with the USDA “to set up the next portion” of the project and they were working on the timeline.

Elliott reported the audit was “progressing well” and that auditors had been there for a week and are “shooting for the May 1st preliminary deadline.” She said she was continuing the work “to clean up the financial system and will most likely be setting up new accounts within the financial system to go forward with an accurate accounting.”

The board entered into executive session at 10:49 a.m., with Congress members Whitehorn and Supernaw and Assistant Chief of Staff Lorenzo. They came out of executive session at 12:21 p.m., according to the minutes of the meeting. A resolution was unanimously passed to “approve a reduction in force of two positions with terms to be addressed and negotiated with each employee, to be put into effect Monday, April 30, 2018.”


[This article was corrected on May 10 to reflect Congresswoman Shannon Edwards asked for money to appropriate for board member stipends, not the Tallgrass or Osage LLC boards. The Osage News regrets the error.]


Shannon Shaw Duty

Original Publish Date: 2018-05-09 00:00:00


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Shannon Shaw Duty
Shannon Shaw Duty is the editor of the Osage News. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a master's degree in Legal Studies, Indigenous Peoples Law from the OU College of Law. She served on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) from 2013-2016 and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee from 2017-2020. 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 (NCAIED). In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive the Elias Boudinot Free Press Award, NAJA’s highest honor. An Osage tribal member, she and her family are from the Grayhorse District. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and six children.

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