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GTC convenes special meeting, rescinds OPC dissolution

Nearly 2,000 General Tribal Council (GTC) members convened for a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 28, at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center. Three items were up for discussion on the agenda which was adopted at 6:39 p.m. These items included a petition brought forward by Yvonne Metivier regarding a $1.03 per hour raise for all tribal employees, a petition brought forward by Frank Vandehei regarding the use of E-polls, and a petition brought forward by Gina Powless regarding recent actions taken by the Business Committee (BC) resulting in the dissolution of the Oneida Personnel Commission (OPC).

Metivier’s wage increase was the first item discussed. Citing employee value to the tribe and saying a failure to provide an adequate comprehensive and fair wage scale for workers were the main reasons for her petition, Metivier’s presentation gave way to the BC’s presentation and recommendation. Oneida Nation Vice Chairman Brandon Stevens provided the Legal, Legislative, and Financial Analyses. Stevens explained the planned compensation package previously approved by the GTC already includes an 85 cent wage increase for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 and 50 cents each for FY 2020 and 2021. Stevens concluded his presentation with the recommendation for approval of the BC’s three year employee compensation plan versus Metivier’s petition.

Councilmember Metivier’s petition for a $1.03 per hour wage increase failed to garner the two-thirds majority votes required to pass her petition. This means tribal employees will be receiving an 85 cent per hour wage increase for FY 2019, and 50 cents each for FY 2020 and 2021 as outlined in the GTC approved compensation plan.

The next agenda item brought before GTC was councilmember Frank Vandehei’s petition to eliminate the use of E-polls conducted by the BC or modify the E-poll process in such a way as to allow GTC participation in them. Vandehei stated a lack of transparency and accountability allows the BC to “make decisions without input or knowledge of the nation’s members” via the use of E-polls. Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill provided the BC’s response to Vandehei’s petition and requested GTC to accept the petition as information only. Hill stated the BC has transitioned into an adopted Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which clearly identifies how E-polls can be conducted and the treatment of E-poll results.

“This SOP sets forth requirements for submitting E-poll requests, timelines for conducting E-polls, and restrictions on items that could not be submitted on E-polls,” Hill said. “The SOP has since been modified for important items to address timing issues as directed by GTC. First we’ve clarified how E-polls are approved for submittal and added additional approval authorities beyond the tribal secretary. Next we’ve clarified the timing of E-polls to ensure there was a balance between the need for immediate action and the ability to have reasonable time to receive, review, and respond to an E-poll. Next we’ve included a prohibition regarding the use of E-polls for GTC related matters. Most E-polls are the result of the need for immediate response by the BC for which calling an emergency or special BC meeting isn’t possible.”

Following the presentations and discussion councilmember Dylan Benton motioned to accept  Vandehei’s petition regarding E-polls as information. The motion carried by show of hands.

The final agenda item discussed was the petition brought forward by councilmember Gina Powless regarding the dissolution of the OPC by the BC. Powless’ petition states, in part, “The OBC has intentionally violated their authority, they don’t have the right to make a decision to dissolve the OPC which was created and approved by GTC. The only body that can dissolve the OPC is GTC. The OBC has abused their power and directly violated the Oneida Constitution, their Oath of Office, Oneida’s Code of Ethics, (and) the Oneida Blue Book, to name a few.”

During the presentation portion of her petition, Powless reiterated her contention that the actions taken to dissolve the OPC were beyond the scope of authority of the BC. During the BC’s response to Powless’ petition, Vice Chairman Stevens put clarity into the reasons as to why the BC took the actions to dissolve the OPC. Stevens explained that the origins of the OPC date to the 1970s when they were known as the Oneida Personnel Select Committee. The Oneida Personnel Select Committee was a body created by GTC which consisted of community elders and non-tribal doctors with the intent of assisting in the hiring processes of the tribe to ensure the avoidance of nepotism and favoritism, Stevens said.

“Fast forward to 1990 when the BC adopted, by resolution, to change the Personnel Select Committee to the OPC,” Stevens said. “The OPC was then charged with the ability to adopt policies on how to regulate personnel issues. This was the creation of the Personnel Policies and Procedures otherwise known as the Blue Book. This 1990 resolution was not a GTC action.”

Stevens went on to explain previously seated BC actions granted the OPC hearing authority over personnel matters which they possessed until the recent dissolution of the commission. “Fast forward to 2013,” Stevens said. “We adopted the judiciary with the main intent of having a separate judiciary to be the hearing body for the Oneida Nation. The GTC was to elect the judiciary who would (hold) these hearings which in turn took away the OPC’s ability to hear cases. The OPC commissioners are appointed by the BC, and this creates a conflict if the BC is appointing personnel commissioners to oversee personnel policies and procedures.”

The adoption of the judiciary provides a formal body which creates separation of powers so hearings can go to an autonomous, neutral body unaffected by the BC, Stevens said. “We notified the GTC at that meeting that the intent for the judiciary was to consolidate the different hearing bodies into one,” Stevens said. “We started doing just that across the past few years by transferring (several) hearing bodies to the judiciary. We were continuing that process.”

During a 2017 Employment Law presentation, Stevens said the GTC was notified of the impending OPC dissolution with the intentions of having personnel policy and procedure hearings being adjudicated within the judiciary. “I wanted to be certain that the BC was indeed notifying GTC of our intent,” Stevens said. “We wanted you to know we were moving in the direction that we were given by GTC when we adopted the judiciary. The dissolution of the OPC increases efficiencies ….because it increases fairness and creates a true trial and appellate level (hearing body) in the judiciary.”

Following lengthy back and forth discussion between the GTC and BC, councilmember Juanita Powless motioned to rescind the actions of the BC related to the dissolution of the OPC and to rescind any amendments related to the Blue Book that took place from April 11, 2018, to the present date. The motion carried by show of hands.

The BC is now in the process of identifying the steps that are required to implement the Aug. 27 GTC motion. The goal of the BC regarding this matter is to implement the GTC directive in a clear and timely transition which protects employee’s due process.