BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH - The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council voted on a proposed cut to council salaries amid budget concerns and discussed several agenda items during its May 4 regular meeting.
During the tribe’s financial report, Treasurer Ella Mae Worley informed councilors that the General Fund is currently facing a budget deficit of $168,320.81.
“We need to get the deficit down. As treasurer, we need to do that and that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Worley. “We brought in only $28,000 for April… We still need $18,816.71 to pay these last month’s bills. We’re still running on a 2017 budget and things were put in on the budget like insurance and all that. We are over budget.”
Worley clarified the numbers do not reflect monies included in the tribe’s federal programs or grants, but General Fund revenue only.
After entering and exiting an executive session in which councilors discussed further audit results, Worley cited her financial report as cause for proposing a motion that councilors be paid as contractors only and their stipends reduced to $1,800 a month.
“We’re being rewarded by being elected and it’s not like we’re getting nothing,” said Worley. “As I heard someone say, it needs to come from the top because we’re elected. Either we give it up or not.”
Illinois District Councilor Peggy Girty voiced concerns with the motion.
“There are some people that rely on this council pay as their living. That’s the only income that they have and at one point in time, I was saying the same thing,” said Girty. “I don’t want people saying, ‘well, she doesn’t want to give her stipend up.’ I’m just feeling for the ones that don’t have any other income coming in. That’s the only thing. That’s my concern.”
Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson put forth a proposal to voluntarily defer councilor stipends.
“What if those that wanted to, let’s say six months down the road, what if we wanted to defer our stipend and put it to where if somebody is going to lose their job, keep it to where we don’t lose somebody. Why I’m saying that is we stay the same,” he said.
Worley responded by stating her motion would stay “as is.” It was given a second by Flint District Councilor Frankie Still.
Councilors Girty, Jeannie Tidwell, Barry Dotson and Jeff Wacoche also voted for the motion. Secretary Joyce Hawk, Councilors Eddie Sacks, Adalene Smith, Sharon Benoit, Charles Smoke and Thompson voted against, resulting in a tie. In such an event, the chief casts the deciding vote.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I guarantee you this is a very difficult decision because of the fact that we haven’t looked at all avenues that we have available to us to look into excess cost and things of this nature. I vote no,” said Chief Joe Bunch.
The measure failed 7-6.
Tidwell also introduced an agenda item that would have required all four elected officers to sign off on “personnel actions in instances when the executive director of tribal operations position is vacant.” The item would have put a policy in place retroactively from March 18, 2019.
“Just say for instance there’s a job available and you go and you slide somebody in on a grant and you do this or you do this, it’s not viable for just one elected official to make this determination as to if this is the best thing to do or not,” said Tidwell. “The Attorney General did give an opinion and in his opinion he stated that no, not one single elected official should be making this determination themselves.”
Thompson and Bunch both responded that there were areas where the chief and assistant chief “can sign off on some of the policy measures.”
Tidwell did not change her motion and Worley gave it a second.
Sacks, Smith, Benoit, Girty, Smoke and Thompson voted against, while Still, Hawk, Dotson and Wacoche abstained from voting. The motion failed to pass.
“I know there’s a policy that already outlines some (of this) and a resolution that states signatures. I’m unclear here,” said Hawk during voting.
Discussion also took place concerning a potential fleet policy for UKB tribal vehicles.
Tidwell’s motion would have required councilors to vote on whether or not to keep vehicle keys and Fuelman cards in the tribe’s Accounting offices. The only exception to the measure would be Lighthorse, the tribe’s police.
“The reason why I believe that this is relevant is it more or less explains itself. When you have employees that are taking vehicles home, that’s a liability,” said Tidwell. “It’s extra maintenance, it’s extra gas. I think that we should try and do everything that we can to maintain and sustain our vehicles that we have for our tribe. It’s a dollar amount and it’s a way to keep control of our vehicles.”
Thompson raised concerns about emergency instances that could arise.
“One of the employees in housing was discussing this with me the other day because they have a lot of vehicles and we have to leave out of (UKB) early before the accounting people get there for keys and Fuelman cards. There are certain situations where that applies…maybe those are some things that aren’t being taken into consideration.”
Hawk informed councilors that the tribe’s insurance policy might already account for emergency situations.
“Gallagher, the insurance that we carry, is working with us on a policy to that nature. I know that this has already been thrown around. I think they’re kind of in the works for emergencies,” she said.
Smith made a motion to table the fleet policy discussion, which was given a second by Thompson and voted unanimously to table.
In other business, Councilors:
· Voted to approve a search for a new Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and Natural Resources director;
· Approved the regular Council meeting minutes from April 6; and
· Approved the transfer of specified bank accounts for the UKB Corporate Board to its own EIN (27-0823019) from the tribal EIN number for accounting and auditing purposes.
The next UKB Tribal Council meeting will be scheduled for May 18 as a special meeting to further discuss the tribe’s General Fund budget. It will take place at 10 a.m. at the Jim Proctor Elder and Nutrition Center in Tahlequah.