The Second Osage Nation Congress unanimously confirmed Jeff Jones as the Nation’s first Attorney General on Jan. 25 during the second day of its Fifth Special Session. Roughly two hours later the Chief’s Office e-mailed a statement that questioned the validity of Jones’s confirmation.
“While the Chief respects that the Congress may read the Constitution and legislation differently, he feels that the language in the Constitution is clear and that confirmation of appointments are to occur during the regular sessions,” according to the statement.
The next regular session is the Hun-Kah Session starting March 21.
The email, from Chris White, executive director of governmental affairs for Chief John Red Eagle’s office, noted that other interim appointments have been made since the Tzi-Zho Session ended last fall and will also be subject to confirmation. “(Chief Red Eagle) will submit his interim appointments for confirmation during the Hun-Kah Session per the Osage Nation Constitution and in accordance with ONCA 10-84 (the bill creating the AG’s office).”
Congress expected the challenge from the Chief’s office of whether or not Jones could be confirmed during a special session but voted to confirm Jones anyway because under ONCA 10-84 the AG’s office is independent and not under the Executive Branch.
ONCA 10-84 states “The Attorney General shall be appointed by the Principal Chief under Article VII, Section 15, of the Constitution.”
According to Section 15 in the Constitution, “the Principal Chief may appoint executive staff in accordance with the budget approved by Congress. The Principal Chief shall also appoint, subject to advice and consent by the (Congress), the members of each board, commission or other instrumentality in the Executive Branch whose election or appointment is not provided by this Constitution or by law.”
Congresswoman Shannon Edwards questioned whether Jones’s appointment and confirmation applies to him under Section 15 of Article VII of the Constitution during the Special Session’s opening day Jan. 24. Section 15 of Article VII of the Constitution focuses on appointments made by the Executive Branch.
“I think that because the Attorney General was listed as an independent office, that perhaps Section 15 doesn’t apply and I’m concerned that if this is an interim appointment under Section 15 then the office wouldn’t be an independent office which is what we put into law,” Edwards said.
“I think that in an abundance of caution,” said Edwards, “we should be confirming (Jones) because (he) is acting on behalf of the Nation and has made appearances on behalf of the Nation and I think it doesn’t make sense to have someone come for a period of two months and act on behalf of the Nation… only to find out that they are not confirmed, and therefore are the actions they have taken during those two months – are those valid? Are they invalid? I think we create more problems by not considering this confirmation than we do by backing it up.”
Congressman Mark Simms agreed with Edwards, “so there is a gray area on this and… there’s no clear cut definition of ‘independence’ and that’s because we didn’t think of everything when the (2006) Constitution was written. I think that maybe we should go ahead and confirm (Jones) today because of that reason we could act in the gray area.”
Jones addresses Congress
Jones was appointed by Chief Red Eagle in November as the Nation’s first Attorney General and he was sworn in by Osage Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Lohah on Jan. 4. A reception was hosted in his honor by the Chief’s Office following his swearing in.
Jones formally introduced himself to Congress during a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Jan. 25 before the Congressional vote to confirm him.
“For the past eight years,” said Jones, who is the former Osage County First Assistant District Attorney, “I’ve (practiced) criminal law, I’ve done felony, jury trials, misdemeanor trials, bribe cases, delinquent cases, traffic docket. I’ve done just everything there was to do in the DA’s office. Before that, I was in private practice in Skiatook. I graduated in 1999 from (University of Tulsa) law school. I was in private practice for two years before I went to the DA’s office.”
“I’m exited to be here,” he said. “I’m excited by the nomination from Chief Red Eagle. I appreciate the trust he put in me to appoint me to this position.”
Jones started working for the Nation about three weeks ago and has been meeting with officials, workers and tribal entities within the Nation’s three government branches. During his initial days on the job, Jones has heard differing opinions on how the government should operate, which also includes hearing differing interpretations on tribal laws and the Constitution. “I listen to all these people and I’m going to take their suggestions and try to mold it into an Attorney General that the tribe can be proud of,” he said.
Jones said he sees several challenges for the AG’s office including “interpreting the Constitution to set out what under the Constitution Congress’s role is and what the Executive’s role is… One of the bigger challenges also is going to be the Minerals Council with the lawsuit that’s in federal court.”
Congress members also shared their thoughts on having Jones as an AG.
“He’s honest, he’s fair and he’s no stranger to stress,” said Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear who’s known Jones since he was an assistant DA. “I have no concerns about him being able to handle the position. I just want to make sure that Jeff understands that we’re all in a new world here and that one reason we asked for this office to be independent is so the political winds don’t mess up your office. We need to figure out ourselves what this office is going to be and I think that’s a cooperative effort with the Chief and the Congress and I just want to stress the importance of staying in contact… that’s going to be a group effort.”
“I am very open to suggestions,” said Jones, “I am open to criticism, I will be available if any of the Congress people or Speaker wants to speak with me… I need your input (from both branches)” to create the AG’s office.
“I’m glad you’re open to criticism because there will be plenty of that,” quipped Congressman William “Kugee” Supernaw.
“I’m excited that we have reached this point of maturity, if you will, as a government,” said Congressman Archie Mason, “in developing the infrastructure that is necessary for a government, bureaucracy to function. I think Mr. Jones is an excellent choice.”
“I have every confidence in Jeff Jones’s professional background and his comments today in working alongside Executive and Congress to help mold the Attorney General’s office,” said Congresswoman Alice Goodfox.
Those present in the Congressional chambers applauded after the 12-0 confirmation vote for Jones.
A request for the Attorney General’s opinion to be submitted by Congress
After the confirmation vote, Edwards motioned for the Congress to submit a question to Jones’s office for an opinion on whether independent agencies are subject to the Nation’s open meetings and records laws.
“I move to submit the following question to the Attorney General from the Osage Nation Congress for opinion: Are independent agencies and entities subject to Osage law relating to open meetings and production of agency records?” said Edwards.
According to ONCA 10-84, only elected officials or the Nation’s boards can send a certified question to the attorney general.
After discussion, the Congress voted 11-1 to ask Jones for an advisory opinion on Edwards’s question. Simms cast the lone “no” vote.
The question comes in the wake of a Jan. 5 closed meeting in which a quorum of the Osage Minerals Council, which is listed as an independent agency in the Constitution, met with Bureau of Indian Affairs officials, oil producers and the Chief’s office without posting notice or keeping a record of the meeting. At issue is whether the OMC must follow the Nation’s laws and who has jurisdiction over the OMC.