The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council voted to reject pay increases for elected officials during a Rules Committee meeting Monday morning.
The vote came before a standing-room-only crowd after the Cherokee Nation Compensation Committee submitted a report in late June, recommending major pay increases for the principal chief, deputy chief, speaker, deputy speaker, and tribal councilors. And while the council rejected the pay raise during the Rules Committee meeting, the measure still has to be voted on again this evening during the regular monthly Tribal Council meeting tonight.
Councilors voted 9-6 to reject the pay hikes, which would have increased the salary of Principal Chief-Elect Chuck Hoskin Jr. to $350,000, an 84 percent increase; Deputy Chief-Elect Bryan Warner to $233,333, a 104 percent increase; Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd, $95,000, a 26 percent increase; and Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez, $90,000. Other tribal councilors would bring in a $85,000 salary, a hike of nearly 35 percent.
At-Large Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield abstained from the vote and District 15 Councilor Janees Taylor was absent from the meeting.
District 8 Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden, District 12 Councilor Dick Lay, and District 3 Councilor David Walkingstick authored the legislation to reject the pay raises. Lay, who also ran for principal chief, said pay raises for elected officials is common, but called this latest attempt “obscene.” He also pointed out that Warner, who currently serves as the District 6 councilor, voted to allow the pay raise.
“Like I said [during the meeting], If I had become chief, I would have vetoed it and-or done an executive order action to stop it,” said Lay. “Apparently Bryan and Chuck would not have. That kind of deflates me a little bit. They’ve got a lot of fence-mending to do, anyway.”
Walkingstick also ran for chief.
In addition to Crittenden, Lay and Walkingstick, those opposing the raises were Mary Baker Shaw, at-large; Buel Anglin, District 13; Keith Austin, District 14; Harley Buzzard, District 10; Joe Byrd, District 2; and Mike Dobbins, District 4. Favoring the raises, in addition to Warner, were E.O. Smith, District 5; Victoria Vazquez, District 11; Canaan Duncan, District 7; Rex Jordan, District 1; and Mike Shambaugh, District 9.
Many of the councilors spoke against the pay increases during the Rules Committee meeting. Shambaugh, who voted to allow the increases, did not, and said the raises would not impact the tribe.
“I wanted to know how this was going to affect us money-wise, if this was going to affect our programs,” said Shambaugh. “I knew this was going to come up, so on Friday, I did go talk to our head financial guy. He said, ‘Absolutely not. This isn’t going to affect our programs.’”
Shambaugh added that for those who were concerned about specific tribal programs not being funded, it requires the council to propose legislation to do so.
“So if we’re not, as a council, putting money into these programs, that’s why not they’re not getting more money in them,” he said. “It’s not about a raise, it’s not about anything else. It’s this council’s responsibility to do that.”
The tribal council will vote whether to allow the pay increases tonight during the council’s regular meeting, at 6 p.m., at the W.W. Keeler Complex.