(Editor’s Note: In the guest opinion column below, Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle defends himself against allegations made against his office by the tribal Congress and attorney general. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pawhuska Journal-Capital. As always, the newspaper welcomes a variety of opinions in the form of letters to the editor or guest columns.)
The Congress and the Attorney General (AG) have made some terrible accusations — all of which are not true and are based on misinformation. They have told their version of events, generally based on gossip and rumors. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will tell you the rest of the story. Before I begin addressing the specifics of the unfounded allegations, I would like to take a moment to speak to you, not only as Principal Chief, but as an elder of the Osage people.
Acting on Gossip and Rumors Is Destructive to Our Nation
Unfortunately, sometimes tribal members operate as though they are still living in small bands and let suspicion or jealousy and rumors or gossip guide their perception of what is happening. Sometimes small communities operate this same way. When they fall into this negative spiral of relating to each other, it can lead to disintegration and self-inflicted disaster. I hope the Osage Nation will not go this way.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, had many talents. For many years he urged the American colonies to unite, form confederations, and be strong like the tribes surrounding the colonies. Franklin was also a newspaper editor and publisher, and is remembered for many sayings that appeared in his newspapers. He said. "Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see." That is a valid warning today when we hear gossip and rumors. In fact, Franklin commented on gossip and rumors this way, "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain — and most fools do."
Long before Benjamin Franklin published these sayings, Moses declared the same principle as he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. The Eighth Commandment said, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." This tells us that God does not want us to deceitfully betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but think and speak well of him, and put the best interpretation on everything. Osage people have striven to live this way since time immemorial. Unfortunately, some in our community have strayed far from these principles.
My hope is that we can learn from this negative experience and become a stronger Nation.
I Did Not Interfere With Any AG Investigation
The Attorney General’s Ethics Complaint (and Congressman Supernaw’s inquiry) accuses me of several things — all of which are not true. The first unjustified complaint is that I demanded that a pending investigation stop immediately, which the AG claims interfered with an employment investigation. I called the AG’s office, not to interfere with an investigation, but to ease my suspicion that this investigation appeared to be politically motivated and unethical. Investigator Herbert took my call, and my inquiry must have hit a nerve because the investigator got defensive, started yelling at me, and filed an ethics complaint against me.
It Is Impossible for the Chief to Interfere With Any AG Investigation
First of all, Congress provided the AG’s Office with complete independence in the Attorney General’s Act. Once the Chief appoints an AG and Congress approves, the Chief cannot fire the AG. The law does not allow the Chief to tell the AG who to hire or fire, or what to do. Osage law only allows the Chief to ask for opinions from the AG.
I did not tell the AG or his Investigator to stop an inquiry regarding a counseling center employee. I did tell the Investigator not to attack any employees because they have employment rights. However, given the AG’s independence, I could not command him to do or stop anything.
Regardless, Osage law does not compel the AG to follow anything the Chief says. Because the Chief has no lawful authority to direct the work of the AG or his Investigator, it was impossible for me to threaten them or stop their work. If the AG stopped investigating, which I doubt, then it was his independent decision to do so and not because of anything I was alleged to have said.
The AG’s disregard of clear Osage law makes it appear that his ethics complaint against me is wrongly motivated.
The Investigation and the Ethics Complaint Appear Politically Motivated
It had come to my attention, through the Health and Social Services Division Leader, that the Attorney General ("AG") was investigating an employee of the counseling center criminally for allegedly submitting inaccurate timesheets. The Division Leader tried to contact the AG and was told by him to talk to Investigator Herbert about the matter. The Director advised me of what she had learned, and as I understood it, the AG’s investigator was looking for any little mistake in this employee’s time records with the intent to declare it a criminal offense.
The fact that the AG’s office, to my knowledge, had never investigated any employee’s timesheet raised my concern because of the appearance of political motivation. Making it more suspicious was the absence of documented timesheet problems by this employee’s supervisors, who you would expect to have the best knowledge and most concern. Hence, I feared this might be the beginning of a larger concern —- an AG’s investigator abusing his authority to single-out any tribal employee for criminal scrutiny without probable cause. And, by that kind of strict examination, I feared that a lot of our employees could find themselves in undeserved trouble, which would negatively affect employee morale. Because I care about all of our Osage Nation employees, I wanted assurance that the AG’s investigation was ethical and not the start of a groundless witch hunt.
The AG’s lack of accuracy added to my feeling the investigation was unethical. The AG mistakenly claims that the employee’s salary as a monitor is an unallowable expense under the Target Capacity Expansion Grant. First, that grant ended in FY 2012. Second, monitors were never paid from the Grant. While she was a case manager and paid from the Grant, the employee met the qualifications of the, then-current, job description. When the "case manager" job description was upgraded to require licensing in March 2012 to improve the program, the employee was transferred to "monitor" because she met those qualifications. The employee, like all other monitors, was not paid from the Grant as a monitor. Thus, there was never a risk to the Nation of a disallowed expense regarding this employee and there is no reason for the AG to claim that, except maybe to be misleading.
In addition, our internal examination revealed that there were no supervisor complaints in the personnel jacket of the employee under investigation and there was nothing about timesheet problems. In fact, the employee’s timesheets had to be approved by an immediate supervisor, just like every other Osage Nation employee. The employee’s job often required being out of the office on employment-related errands, such as to visit with people in the program and to pick up program supplies, and to occasionally work in the evening. The supervisors approving the timesheets were in the best position to know about such circumstances as they occurred. I expect all supervisors to take corrective action when they discover instances of timesheet falsification.
The AG and the Investigator could have learned the foregoing information by actually conducting a full and fair investigation. Hence, it is the AG’s lack of any proper investigation and the resulting bogus claims against me, which makes it appear that I was targeted for political assassination through the stalking of this employee.
I will address the other false allegations in future articles.
John Red Eagles is principal chief of the Osage Nation.