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GTC convenes special meeting

A previously canceled Special General Tribal Council (GTC) meeting took place on Sunday, March 17, at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center. Approximately 1,200 Oneida Nation citizens attended the meeting, which had to be rescheduled due to inclement weather on Feb. 24, 2019.

The first agenda item up for discussion was for the GTC to consider adoption of a Sanctions and Penalties Law. Members of the Oneida Business Committee (OBC) stated their support for this potential resolution designed to establish a consistent set of sanctions and penalties to be imposed upon elected and appointed officials of the Nation for misconduct of office.

The OBC presented the contents of the proposed legislation as well as complaint procedures along with potential penalties. Those penalties included verbal reprimand, public apology, written reprimand, suspension, restitution, fines, loss of stipend, mandatory training, termination of appointment, and removal in accordance with the Removal Law.

GTC discussion ensued with numerous conflict of interest concerns raised, to which the OBC explained that members found to be in conflict would be required to recuse themselves from the proceedings. Other concerns raised included lack of information, loopholes in the legislation, and the possibility of broad interpretation of the law. A member of the Nation’s Legislative Reference Office (LRO) explained that the LRO reviewed several different examples and models of penalty processes from other tribal nations to formulate this proposal.

Following the lengthy back-and-forth discussion, GTC member Mike Debraska proposed this agenda item be deferred for at least 60 days to allow GTC time to consider and have input regarding this matter. Debraska’s motion passed by show of hands.

The next item discussed was GTC member Gina Powless’ petition to rescind the Oneida Nation’s Removal Law. Powless’ petition contained 11 reasons for why the law should be repealed and during her presentation stated that the Nation’s elected officials, board members, and employees should be held accountable for their actions. She further stated the higher the person’s position within the organization, the higher the level of accountability should be.

Powless alleged “serious defiance” of GTC directives on the part of the OBC, stating numerous directives had not been adhered to. Specifically, Powless cited the Personnel Commission dissolution reversal and petition denials, stating the OBC acted outside their scope of responsibility when multiple $5,000 membership per capita petitions were not allowed to move forward for GTC consideration in 2018.

Oneida Nation Vice-Chairman Brandon Stevens provided the OBC response to this agenda item. Stevens stated that this proposed action would not make it easier to remove an elected official since the Oneida Constitution requires a removal ordinance to be in place prior to conducting any removal process. He further said that repeal of this law would require the amendment of a significant number of laws or by-laws that specifically reference the Removal Law.

After lengthy discussion on the topic the GTC voted on the petition. The motion failed, by hand count, to meet the 2/3 majority required to repeal the Removal Law.

The third item on the agenda was GTC member Scott Kosbab’s petition to create a Term Limits Law. Petitioner Kosbab was a no-show at the meeting to give his presentation. GTC member Mike Debraska questioned whether Kosbab was notified of his time and date to appear before the GTC, and the OBC confirmed Kosbab’s notification.

Next, the OBC held an open discussion with the GTC regarding the multiple $5,000 membership per capita petitions that were not permitted to move forward in 2018 because of the detriment such a payment would have caused the Nation as a whole. Vice-Chairman Stevens stated the OBC wanted to have this open floor discussion because they wished to reiterate their stance that their decision not to move the petitions forward was for the overall benefit of the Nation, as well as answer any further questions members may have regarding the issue. Nearly forty minutes of often colorful discussion ensued with GTC members on both sides of the issue having opportunities to express their opinions on the matter.

GTC member Mike Debraska questioned the status of a federal lawsuit filed regarding the petitions and

was informed that the action filed had been dismissed by the federal court. On Jan. 31, 2019, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin Chief Judge William Griesbach dismissed petitioner Gladys Dallas’ lawsuit, finding no federal jurisdiction or valid allegations for her claims.

In her lawsuit, Dallas alleged the OBC violated her First Amendment right to free speech and conspired to violate her civil rights under the United States Constitution, the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA), as well as Article VII of the Oneida Constitution when they refused to convene a GTC meeting regarding her per capita petitions. Dallas sought to have the federal court overturn the OBC decision and compel them to convene a GTC meeting for her petitions to be heard.

Griesbach, in his decision to dismiss the lawsuit, wrote, ‘In short, because the First Amendment does not apply to the Nation and its tribal officers, the First Amendment does not provide a basis for federal question jurisdiction. In addition, the ICRA does not provide a basis for federal jurisdiction.’ Griesbach further wrote, ‘Dallas does not allege facts indicating that the defendants conspired for the purpose of depriving her equal protection of the laws. Accordingly, Dallas has failed to state a claim.’ Regarding Dallas’ Article VII violation claim, Griesbach wrote, ‘federal courts lack jurisdiction to hear claims based on tribal law’ and ‘the court agrees that these disputes are within the jurisdiction of the tribal courts.’

The final item on the meeting agenda was to consider a resolution reaffirming the Declaration of Confidentiality of General Tribal Council Meetings. Vice-Chairman Stevens said GTC meetings are confidential, internal discussions and are not to be recorded without specific permission of the GTC. A memorandum from Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill reads, in part, ‘We have identified excerpts of our recordings of GTC meetings on YouTube and twice a member has been asked to stop recording, ultimately the member was removed from the meeting because they continued to record.’

The resolution passed by show of hands and the meeting was adjourned.

The Annual GTC meeting originally scheduled for January 31 is now set to take place on Monday, March 25, at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center at 6:00 p.m. That meeting was also rescheduled due to inclement weather.