The Cherokee Nation Citizens Compensation Committee submitted a report this week, recommending major pay increases for the principal chief, deputy chief, speaker, deputy speaker, and tribal councilors.
Beginning in August 2018, Principal Chief Bill John Baker had a salary of $190,000; Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden was paid $114,000; Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd earned $75,000 a year; and other tribal councilors made $63,000.
The Compensation Committee authorized a salary for Principal Chief-Elect Chuck Hoskin Jr. of $350,000, an 84 percent increase; Deputy Chief-Elect Bryan Warner will get $233,333, a 104 percent increase; Byrd, $95,000, a 26 percent increase; and Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez, $90,000. Other tribal councilors will bring in a $85,000 salary, a hike of nearly 35 percent. The effective date for the adjustment is Aug. 14.
“The salary adjustment for Cherokee Nation elected leaders was needed to accomplish a couple of different goals,” said Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Julie Hubbard said. “It reflects cost-of-living adjustments. Typically, our Cherokee Nation employees receive a cost-of-living increase each Oct. 1, and so this adjustment builds in that increase for our elected leaders as well. It also compensates our top elected officials, who serve the largest federally recognized tribe in the United States, with a pay scale that is more comparable, but still less than what elected leaders from some of our neighboring tribal nations in Oklahoma earn.”
According to tribal law, the salaries will be set for all elected officials, unless the Tribal Council introduces legislation to negate the raises or adjust the figures within 30 days of committee’s report. Should the council take issue with the recommendations, the legislation must be introduced during either the Rules Committee or Executive and Finance Committee meetings, or both, which are set for Monday, July 15.
The committee is composed of five members. The principal chief appoints two members, the Tribal Council appoints two, and the final member is selected by the other four members. Committee members include Chair Deacon Turner, of Denver, Colorado; Lyndon Emberton, of Muldrow; Suzanne Gilstrap, of Eucha; Teresa Adair, of Tulsa; and Curtis Bruehl, of Oklahoma City.
The panel met in February, and in the spring, it acquired market analysis data such as figures from other federally recognized tribes, universities, local and state government institutions, as well as public and private sector institutions. The last meeting was June 30.
“It’s important to remember that the compensation committee meets every four years in accordance with Legislative Act 40-70 and was amended by LA 01-15,” Byrd said. “It’s an independent committee that takes no recommendations from either the administration or council.”
Byrd pointed out the amount of this term’s increase puts the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council compensation on par with that of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, and is less than what Chickasaw tribal councilors are paid.
A sum of $267,936 will come from the tribe’s general fund to pay for the first year of Tribal Council increases, while $237,322 will come from the tribe’s indirect cost pool. The committee also recommended that elected officials receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment commensurate with Cherokee Nation employees.
Furthermore, the committee recommended the principal chief and deputy chief be provided burial services; all elected officials be granted benefits like insurance and retirement investments; and elected officials “shall be considered eligible for additional contribution to a 457 investment plan.” The annual cost-of-living adjustment would be roughly 3 percent each year.