By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The EBCI Tribal Employees Rights Office (TERO) has been in an ongoing state of flux for several months now. With an effort to clarify law and an almost entire staff turnover, TERO has been the subject of to even more debate of late.
Terri Henry, the director of TERO who was assigned in February, says that there has been a learning curve.
“We can do better at having a conversation about what we do … it’s time to open up this box here and look at the positive things that can be done.”
Evan Stamper says that things are changing for the better.
“I’ve been given a lot more responsibility … She trusts us with what we do. She likes to get stuff done.”
Stamper is the longest serving employee on TERO’s staff, and he has only been there for two years. At one point he was forced to work as the only compliance officer for the department before two more were hired in November of last year.
A major issue is that the department still isn’t fully staffed. Henry has been trying to hire an employment manager for quite some time, and so TERO has been unable to get its job placement program going. Henry says that position could be filled soon, however.
“Once we get that individual … that program will be the fourth leg of the table.”
The TERO Board was called into a work session on Tuesday, May 7 to answer several questions from the public and Tribal Council.
The meeting was officially called to address Ordinance 515, which calls for the need to abolish TERO and to replace it with a project manager. Though many in the Council Chamber were involved that morning, few spoke to this ordinance directly.
“I don’t agree with getting rid of the TERO commission, because if you give it to one person then you have a monopoly there,” said Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle.
This was not the major topic of discussion, though. There were several issues covered in the work session, one of which was a debate regarding tribal ‘Rock Law’ and laws designated by TERO. The ‘Rock Law’ says that certified masons have priority for jobs on the boundary. However, TERO’s laws state that TERO vendors get priority.
“It seems to me like we have some conflicting laws,” said Yellowhill Rep.Tom Wahnetah.
Wahnetah continued by saying the council might need to look at both laws in order to come to a solution, and other members of council agreed.
“That was going to be my suggestion … a complete overhaul,” said Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha.
This debate led possibly the most controversial item during the session: TERO’s 1.75% rate on outside vendors.
That’s the rate that TERO would take from all projects more than $10,000 from non-TERO vendors. It’s something that was passed in 2016 but has yet to be implemented.
“We would first use that money to fund this program. If we’re able to do that, that means we come off of the general fund,” said Henry.
“If we wind up in a situation where we have excess dollars … those excess dollars would go back to the Tribal fund.”
Now that Henry is pushing for this, it has brought others that are opposed. One of which is the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise (TCGE).
Anne Davis, the TCGE attorney, said that the with size of some of the casino’s ongoing projects, this rate could be more than people think.
“With all of the contractors that are going to be involved with this, this could run into millions of dollars,” said Davis.
“My board is concerned that this is just adding to the costs. Our board attempts to use TERO certified vendor whenever we can. But when building a tower, you’re going to have to go out and get someone who is qualified to do that.”
Though the work session was lengthy, and almost everything was discussed in depth, very few decisions are set in stone. The council decided that it was best to discuss the matter of the laws and that 1.75 percent rate at another work session that has yet to have a set time.
TERO has consistently been shifting over the past few years, but the board is reaching for some stability. Through these work sessions and filling the staff, Henry and her team are hoping that comes sooner rather than later.