The eighth special session for the Third Osage Nation Congress is underway for the “Meeting of the Select Committee of Inquiry and to issue its report” regarding the 15 allegations of wrongdoing against Principal Chief John Red Eagle.
On Day One of the special session, the committee did not issue a report to the entire Congress, but held an executive session regarding the information gathered for the committee investigation. Congressional Speaker Raymond Red Corn, who sits on the inquiry committee, addressed questions on the report’s availability.
“There has been some speculation about the timing of the release of the committee’s report,” Red Corn said. “I believe it is fair to say the report will be ready when the committee determines it is ready. The quality and accuracy of this report is of critical importance, both to the Congress and the Osage people. The (committee) understands that importance and will release the report when it feels those standards of quality and accuracy have been met.”
Chief Red Eagle did not attend the Oct. 21 session due to a recent death in his family, said Deidre Bigheart, executive director of governmental affairs for the chief’s office.
According to Congressional rules a Select Committee of Inquiry, picked by an ON Supreme Court Justice, shall provide a written report of findings, conclusions and documentation to the Congress regarding any allegations made against an elected or appointed official who is the target of said investigation – if the committee finds sufficient grounds exist for the Congress to consider a removal trial.
During the Oct. 21 morning session, the Congress scheduled an executive session to allow witnesses interviewed by the committee to meet with the legislative body for an opportunity to be heard prior to the report’s release. According to the Nation’s open records law, the Congress may reclassify as public any document marked as protected, confidential, proprietary or non-public after providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to those interested parties.
The Select Committee of Inquiry interviewed 40 individuals for testimony and evidence gathering during its two-month investigation, which started during an August special session. Congressional legal counsel Loyed “Trey” Gill said the executive session is an opportunity for the witnesses to object to making their testimonies public as part of the committee’s report, as well as any documents provided by those witnesses. The witnesses were all notified by certified mail of the scheduled executive session, Gill said.
Three people appeared before the Congress during the executive session, including Bigheart who requested to read a statement on Chief Red Eagle’s behalf. The Congress declined to hear the statement, Bigheart said afterward.
Regarding the Chief's statement, Red Corn referred to the certification letter sent to the witnesses and said: "The wording of the certified letter sent to all who testified was explicit to what was allowed and submission of a written statement was not included as an option in the letter. Ms. Bigheart was informed of this fact, but was also informed that she could submit the Chief's statement to the Clerk of Congress after session as he can with any document. She did submit it and the Clerk stamped it in."
Most of the Select Committee of Inquiry work is being conducted in executive session citing personnel matters and legal advice as reasons for the closed-door meetings. Current and former ON government employees and board members were among those interviewed, including Chief Red Eagle, who is a critic of the investigation process.
Also attending the executive sessions were other members of Congress not on the committee and Congressional legal counsel. Chief Red Eagle has denied all of the allegations and attended the investigative meetings with or by legal counsel, as he is allowed per Congressional rules.
Chief Red Eagle questions investigation process
In two recent statements released by his office, Chief Red Eagle issued objections to the investigation proceedings including the fact that the Congress members would serve as both investigators and jurors should a removal trial be held.
“I object to the manner in which the Committee took testimony because it primarily sought information from disgruntled employees and lacked a fair and complete investigative process to explore all of the facts and witnesses available, Chief Red Eagle said in his prepared Oct. 21 statement to the Congress. Many of the Committee’s questions focused on drawing out how people felt rather than seeking facts. The investigation concentrated too much on imagined wrongs and too little on reality. The Committee’s investigative process also ‘tainted the jury pool’ by allowing other members of Congress to wander in and out of the meetings and hear incomplete testimony. As a consequence, I urge Congress to reject the report and rewrite the process to harmonize with our Constitution and, thus, be fair and impartial.”
Chief Red Eagle also said: “Because of my concerns about flaws with the whole process, I request that any selected witness testimony portray the entire witness statement in the Committee of Inquiry report in order for members of the Osage Nation to properly evaluate the work of the Committee. Edited or truncated testimony has the potential to provide an inaccurate or incorrect portrayal of what a witness has said. The best evidence of witness testimony is the full statement that the witness presented.”
In an Oct. 8 newsletter emailed to all ON government employees, Chief Red Eagle said he was interviewed for three hours during one of the investigation days and that his legal counsel was not allowed to speak on his behalf. The chief also questioned: “Can the Osage Congress serve as both investigator and juror? Is it fair that Congressman (William “Kugee”) Supernaw brought these allegations, was allowed to attend the Committee of Inquiry and will also act as a juror if there is a removal trial?”
Supernaw: ‘only those with the most substantial evidence would be considered if a trial is to be held’
In his Oct. 20 “Notes to the Nation” newsletter, Supernaw said he only raised three of the 15 allegations with the remaining allegations brought by other Congress members. “The remaining 12 allegations were submitted by other members of Congress who had some knowledge of the incidents because of personal experience or because they were reported to them by others,” Supernaw said.
Supernaw also wrote: “An investigation that required the testimony of some 40 witnesses and hundreds of pages of documentation has been held to determine which allegations might have enough corroborating evidence to warrant a trial. I don’t think that anyone ever thought that all 15 allegations would ever go forward to trial; only those with the most substantial evidence would be considered if a trial is to be held. The SCOI report, which probably will be delivered during this special session, is expected to recommend which allegations, if any, would be proper subjects for trial. A motion (for a removal trial) would have to be made by a member of Congress and at least 8 votes would be needed to proceed to trial.”
The next special session meeting date for Congress is Thursday Oct. 24 at 10 a.m. The Select Committee of Inquiry will meet as needed throughout the special session to complete its work.
After the Select Committee of Inquiry presents its findings and recommendations, it must disband, according to Congressional rules. After the committee issues its report – and if it finds sufficient grounds exist for a removal trial – a written motion to conduct a removal trial must be issued for a vote by the entire Congress. Per Congressional rules, the motion for removal must be based on cause which include one or more of the following charges: willful neglect of duty, malfeasance in office, habitual abuse of alcohol or drugs, inability to meet qualifications to serve, conviction of a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude while in office, undermining the integrity of the office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of power or abuse of the government process.
To see the full list of the 15 allegations against Chief Red Eagle, click on the link: http://app6.websitetonight.com/projects/1/2/1/5/1215402/uploads/Motion_for_Select_Committee_of_Inquiry.pdf
*Editors note: This story was edited for clarification on Oct. 23