Council terminates accounting employees, re-hires Nordwall as EDTO
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH - During its Jan. 5 meeting, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council terminated two of its accounting employees and re-hired Sean Nordwall as the tribe’s executive director of tribal operations.
The meeting, which followed the swearing-in of four new tribal councilors and five incumbents, first focused on the tribe’s incomplete fiscal year 2017 single audit and its effect on the UKB Housing Department amid the U.S. Government shutdown.
“I just wanted to let the council know that the Housing Department has suffered from the government shutdown,” said Charles Deason, UKB assistant housing director. “There is over $2 million dollars in our E LOCS account that we can draw from, but it is currently in ‘restricted’ status with HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). The reason we are in restricted status is because of the lack of an audit. Now the only way we can do a draw down is to submit documentation and someone at HUD has to be there to physically approve that drawing.”
Deason emphasized that since HUD employees are part of the shutdown and cannot verify Housing requests for funds, the department would have to suspend all housing programs and services until further notice. Housing employees have also been placed on furlough as of Jan. 7.
The announcement prompted councilors to question why the single audit, which was first approved after firm Eide Bailly won a bidding process in March 2018, had yet to be completed.
Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson said he believed the audit was incomplete because of the tribe’s Accounting Department.
“All the paperwork is supposed to be put together by June 30 and submitted and be approved by September 30 when the new fiscal year starts. It’s the submission of all the stuff that the auditing company is asking for from our tribe, that’s what’s holding it up,” he said. “(Eide Bailly) had been requesting information to complete the audit and they weren’t receiving it.”
Further council discussion determined that Accounting was under the direction of Chief Joe Bunch and Secretary Joyce Fourkiller, with Delaware Councilor Adalene Smith accusing Bunch of failing to “push” accounting employees to provide the needed information.
“How many times were (Accounting) notified (that Eide Bailly) needed that information, but you kept giving them excuses for them not to? They told you they didn’t have it or something and you wouldn’t push it,” said Smith. “We have asked the accounting department to do their job. They have been incompetent. I’m going to make a motion to discharge these people because they have hurt the tribe.”
Bunch defended the Accounting Department and cautioned against the action. “The audits are being done as we speak. By doing this, you are going to be throwing everything into chaos. We’ll have to start all over again,” he said.
Councilors eventually voted 9-3 to terminate Payroll and Accounting Clerk Jayme Johnson and Grants Program Manager Vanessa Hansen.
Thompson, Treasurer Ella Mae Worley and Councilors Smith, Jeannie Tidwell, Frankie Still, Sharon Benoit, Peggy Girty, Barry Dotson and Jeff Wacoche voted in favor. Secretary Joyce Fourkiller and Councilors Eddie Sacks and Charles Smoke voted against.
The motion also directed Comptroller Jaci Taylor to assist Eide Bailly with completing the audit.
During the meeting councilors also voted to re-hire tribal member Sean Nordwall as the tribe's executive director of tribal operations.
The move comes two months after Nordwall’s contract as EDTO was originally terminated after a vote by councilors on Nov. 3, 2018. At that time, councilors voted in a 4-4 tie, with Bunch as the tie-breaker.
The Jan. 5 vote was taken after Worley read several statements from UKB program directors in support of Nordwall. He was re-hired on a part-time basis for a salary of $32,500. He is also a part-time consultant for the UKB Housing Department.
Councilor Wacoche voiced strong support for advertising the position to the public so it was done "the right way," but Thompson stated that Nordwall had went through the proper hiring processes when the EDTO position was advertised “twice” in 2018.
Fourkiller also brought up a prosecutor’s opinion on Nordwall that was examined by the previous councilors.
"That was brought to light and prior to that it was an issue of emails back and forth among departments, so when that prosecutor submitted her opinion, it had findings in there,” she said. “When it was brought to council, that’s how it was voted on. It wasn’t personal. It was an opinion that was brought in front of us.”
Nordwall responded to her comments in the meeting. “The findings were in regards to accounting (employees), but now they’ve let them go so I think that shows something right there,” he said.
Worley made the motion to hire Nordwall and it was given a second by Benoit. Thompson, Worley, Smith, Tidwell, Still, Benoit, Girty and Dotson voted in favor. Fourkiller, Smoke and Wacoche voted against. Sacks was absent.
In other business:
· Worley delivered the financial report, outlining total revenues for December 2018 as $31,620.24 against $112,395.27 in expenses. Within the expenses, various reimbursed costs put the tribe in a shortfall of $39,283.43, according to Worley;
· Thompson announced that the Oklahoma Attorney General would be launching an investigation into the Keetoowah Cherokee Treatment Services in Tulsa to investigate possible fraud of up to $260,000 from "several years" ago;
· Councilors tabled approving the meeting minutes from the December 2018 Tribal Council meeting;
· Councilors tabled a vote that would have replaced UKB Chief Justice Dewayne Littlejohn with Attorney Douglas G. Dry until they had time to review Dry’s resume. Littlejohn announced his retirement from the tribe on Jan. 5;
· Councilors approved a resolution for the UKB Media department to open a banking account to start collecting advertising revenue for the Giduwa Cherokee News;
· Councilors approved a resolution from Worley to vacate all previously appointed Gaming Commission members and advertise the three-member board to the public for council consideration;
· Councilors gave approval to Health and Human Services to pursue a grant for a food pantry and approved the department to use the UKB Wellness Center for its new substance abuse program; and
· John Hair Cultural Center and Museum Director Ernestine Berry announced that a new museum exhibit featuring translated Cherokee syllabary documents recovered from various institutions would open to the public on March 30.
The next regularly scheduled UKB Tribal Council meeting is set for Feb. 2 in Tahlequah.