Council debates chartering Bacone College, removes Bird
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH - During its March 2 meeting, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council entertained a presentation surrounding the possibility of chartering Bacone College and voted to terminate Environmental and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Sheila Bird.
The meeting began with an address from Bacone College President Dr. Ferlin Clark.
“I want to give an update on Bacone College and make a request to you,” he said. “Since May 12 I was appointed president of Bacone College. They laid everyone off before I arrived. There were only eight staff that they kept on. Just to be here today to give you a report that Bacone is still open, to me, is an accomplishment.”
In May 2018, Bacone College was nearly shuttered from operations after it announced it carried more than $2 million in debt. According to the Bacone College website, the institution is one of the oldest continuously operated higher education institutions in Oklahoma and one of the oldest American Indian colleges in the U.S.
Clark detailed to the UKB Council that the college, once private, is seeking support to become a public tribal college in order to restructure its financial situation.
“Our status as an educational institution would change with our accreditation,” said Clark. “We would go from a private (college) to a public. Right now our tuition is at $682 per credit hour. Altogether it’s like $25,000 to go to Bacone, so we’re proposing at this next board meeting to reduce that to $400 per credit hour, which is more reasonable than $682. We’re proposing that and want to be more affordable to our Indian students, our Indian people.”
Clark explained that in order for Bacone to switch its status, the institution would need to be chartered by a federally recognized tribe.
“To become a tribal college, you have to be chartered by a federally recognized tribe,” Clark said. “You have to be on or near a tribal reservation. We’re kind of right in the middle of everybody over here and you have to have 51 percent American Indian student population. We’re kind of like, I say we’re kind of an orphan right now. We’re kind of feeling like we need somebody to adopt us and just to charter us.”
The property on which Bacone College rests is within Creek jurisdiction, though Clark explained the Creeks were not able to assist the institution.
“The Creeks have their own tribal college. You can only have one tribal college per tribe, so they can’t fund us because they have their own tribal college,” he said. “I think it would be a unique and powerful story, that the Keetoowahs could say, ‘today we’re interested to charter Bacone College as a tribal college.’”
The Council agreed to discuss the matter and get back with Clark at a later date.
Also during the meeting, Councilor Jeannie Tidwell made a motion to dismiss Environmental and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Sheila Bird, with Treasurer Ella Mae Worley giving the motion a second.
Secretary Joyce Hawk and Councilors Frankie Still, Charles Smoke, Barry Dotson and Jeff Wacoche also voted in favor of dismissal, while Councilors Sharon Benoit, Adalene Smith and Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson voted against. Councilor Eddie Sacks was absent and Councilor Peggy Girty abstained from voting.
The issue was a “personnel matter” and no information was given at the meeting about possible reasons for Bird’s dismissal.
Councilors also voted unanimously to allow the UKB Housing Department to enter a PILOT Agreement with Mayes County, per the urging of Attorney General Klint Cowan.
“You’ve done similar (housing) agreements with other counties. It allows your Housing to pay a much smaller amount than the regular tax rate for the public services that are provided by the county,” said Cowan. “It’s $150 a unit, where the taxes would have been much more than that. It saves you money on your Housing program, so I recommend that you approve it.”
Worley also gave a financial report during the meeting.
“We’ve satisfied that $200,000 line of credit loan (with Bank of Cherokee County), so now we are just doing on our own,” said Worley. “We’re working on our own, the tribe. No more bank payment. As soon as possible, I’ll email everybody as soon as get around and we figure out our IDC, we’ll have a budget meeting.”
Thompson delivered the Corporate Authority Board report, announcing new advertising opportunities.
“The big billboard sign right beside our old casino, we’ve only been getting I think only $3,200 a year. I don’t know who made that agreement, but it’s unbelievable,” he said. “We’re going to redo that. We found out that we could put one of these digital signs up and make a very substantial amount of money from that sign. We’re also looking at doing this same type of thing at Tulsa at our KCTS facility up there. Those digital signs make a lot of money.”
In addition to pursuing advertising revenue, CAB stated they had also met with Robert Weaver of RWI Benefits, LLC concerning a Keetoowah Home Healthcare business venture.
“We’ve got a proposal from him to start our own Keetoowah home healthcare. We’ve got Keetoowah nurses that want to go to work for our own tribe and I think that’s the way it should be,” said Thompson. “We’re going to look into that… The proposal is with our attorney, our corporate board attorney is doing it and carving it up and making sure where it looks good for everybody.”
In other business:
· Councilors voted to approve the meeting minutes from February;
· Hawk gave the Enrollment Committee report, which saw one relinquishment due to employment and one new application for membership. Councilors approved the report unanimously and,
· Keetoowah Construction, Inc. announced it had more than $300,000 in contracts and are bidding on a number of projects.
The next regularly scheduled UKB Tribal Council meeting is set for April 6 at the Jim Proctor Elder and Nutrition Center in Tahlequah.