Budget Concerns Dominate New Council Session
PINE RIDGE— Tuesday was a cold day, the temperature wasn’t expected to get above 4 below zero but December’s regular session had already been postponed a week so cold or not, 18 council representatives showed up for Tuesday’s meeting at the council chambers in the Red Cloud building in Pine Ridge; you knew money was on most legislators mind when there was a resolution two thirds onto the agenda to take $4 million from the Rama settlement and split it between the general fund and the indirect cost budget to cover overruns left by the past administration, that resolution didn’t hit the floor Tuesday but definitely would on Wednesday.
A request from Eagle Nest district for $15,000 to help their district members deal with a shortage of propane, electricity and wood to deal with the extreme cold weather seemed to rachet up the stress level on the council that is dealing with the reality that the tribe is not cashy, that the tribe spends a great deal of money on energy costs. Eagle Nest had quickly run through their monthly allocation of $5,000 and emphasized it just wasn’t enough, that they’d gone to OST Energy and were given eight space heaters which wasn’t the answer, especially if you didn’t have electricity.
“This is a time when we help each other, in Pine Ridge, we keep Billy Mills and the CAP office open, we make sure there is good and safe space available for those who need a safe warm place,” said Rich Greenwald, council representative from Pine Ridge and now chair of the HHS committee, “we are giving away so much money every month, we are going to bankrupt the tribe, as a legislature, we need to better plan and prepare our budgets and tribal members need to be better prepared, plan ahead for winter, work on getting your education and find jobs, we are bankrupting our tribe, people can’t keep coming to the tribe for help.”
A motion to move the $15,000 request to next week’s financial working session made by Cora White Horse, LaCreek council rep and chair of the finance committee, passed 14-1 with three not voting. Blaine Little Thunder, Eagle Nest rep, made a motion to have the tribe honor the $15,000 request from Eagle Nest district and give each district $15,000 for weather related assistance, a total of $135,000. Mason Big Crow, OST Treasurer, said there may be some money in a Prairie Wind Casino account but a motion to table the discussion and discuss the issue at next week’s financial working session made by Medicine Root rep Chancey Wilson passed 15-3. Representatives from Eagle Nest district were adamant that money was needed this week when temperatures would not rise much above zero not next week when it was going to be in the 30’s and 40’s.
During the presentation from Eagle Nest district, Clara Bald Eagle was struggling to deal with the death of her grandson who was Oglala but not officially enrolled. She was having difficulty getting assistance from tribal sources since he was not enrolled, from Jackson County because she lived in Rapid City. The council decided to pass a letter around for donations but Rich Greenwald saw that just wasn’t going to cut it so he made the motion to request Treasurer Mason Big Crow to look for possible resources for a casket and the cost of wake services, passed 13-0 with three abstaining and two not voting.
From the President’s office, an ordinance was presented to extend an opportunity to Oglala veterans to own their own home and have a job; the program was to be funded by a 2% sales tax in municipalities/districts across the reservation. Discussion included a strong reaction against a tax, what kind of budget would be used, would there be any formulas and how much potential revenue could be generated by the tax. Ramon Bear Runner, a veteran and architect of the plan made an impassioned presentation about the need for such a program here on Pine Ridge reservation, representative Tina Merdanian’s husband, also a vet, spoke out against the plan. A move to table the proposed plan for 60 days to allow for legal review and district input passed 17-1.
Mark van Norman, tribal attorney, addressed the council about issues involving Pesla and Bear Butte. A total of 2,000 acres of Pesla land had been put into trust on Dec. 12, there was still 437 acres left that had yet to be put into trust. Bear Butte was a slightly different issue, 270 acres near the gate of the state park and around the lake were being put up for sale at auction; several tribes were going in together to bid on the land valued a $1.135 million, they were looking at Oglala, Cheyenne River and Crow Creek chipping in with money already committed by Northern Cheyenne and other tribes. A motion to put in $50,000 from Rama Settlement monies passed 15-0 with one abstaining and two not voting.
Following a prayer by Stanley Little White Man, words of encouragement by Austin Watkins and adding 30 two thirds items to the agenda, the agenda was approved. A complaint was the first order of business but following an executive session, Jane Long, tribal attorney stated that no action was warranted, the tribe’s election process had been followed, an appeal had gone to the OST Election Commission then the appeal went to the OST Supreme Court so that’s where the process ended.
He introduced himself as Mark Meersman, the new CEO at the Pine Ridge IHS hospital, he had been on site for 3-4 weeks and his focus had been on responding to the ongoing CMS evaluations. The council, frustrated with hearing from a number of temporary CEO’s, unleashed a barrage of concerns that both the council and communities had, Meersman said he would write down all of the questions and concerns and would get back to the council with answers and information. The IHS report was accepted by a vote of 14-1 with three not voting.
Cleve Her Many Horses made a report from the BIA Superintendent’s office. Issues concerned the Bureau’s Land Buy Back Program, the General Assistance program and the resolution of plans in place for the three old buildings, three old BIA buildings, the old DPS main office, the old jail and the old courthouse. Pine Ridge was originally allocated $126 million for Land Buy Back, Her Many Horses stated that $112 million had been expended, what would it take to get the program back to spend the remaining monies. The GA program for the past few years has been funded at the 80% level so when July rolls around, there is no money for August and September leaving Cleve scrambling for monies to finish out the year. Lydia Bear Killer made a motion not to cut anyone from the GA program and that any excess GA monies in the region be allocated to Pine Ridge, passed 18-0. The BIA report was accepted 17-1. A motion to have Her Many Horses bring the 2017 and 2018 BIA budgets to the council and to bring the proposed 2019 and 2020 budgets also to the council, passed 17-0-1 not voting. A final motion was made by Bear Killer to have the OST Enrollment office bring the number of tribal enrolled currently and a number of pending enrollments, passed 18-0.
The council recessed until Wednesday to finish the agenda.