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Tribal liaisons must be more accountable, says governor in budget note

Mar 25, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Wyoming has asked liaisons for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes to keep better track of the work they do in order to receive state funding.

The biennial budget bill passed during the most recent meeting of the Wyoming Legislature included $200,000 for tribal liaisons through June 30, 2015. However, the line item was paired with a footnote requiring that Gov. Matt Mead's office develop a list of "deliverables," or requirements, that the liaisons must meet before receiving the funds.

The liaisons will report to Mead and the Joint Appropriations Interim Committee by Nov. 1 outlining plans to complete each item. If Mead is satisfied that his deliverables will be met, he may include a request for funding for the program in his 2015-2016 supplemental budget.

"It's pretty simple," state Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said. "When we spend taxpayer dollars, we expect to have deliverables and results. We treat everybody the same."

Bebout believes the liaison positions are important, but he said there has been a lack of communication over recent years that has resulted in a need for more accountability tied to funding.

"That always gets everyone's attention," he said. "It did this time."

He anticipates that the deliverables will be met -- but first, they must be defined.

Robinson and Collins

Sara Robinson, first-year liaison for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, said last week that she hasn't heard any specifics yet about the new requirements from the state.

Robinson was frustrated when she learned about the new standards, because she says she already was meeting any accountability requirements that could be requested.

"They're asking for things that I felt (I) had provided the governor's office," Robinson said. "We do have transparency and accountability. (There are) tribal policies we have to follow, and worksheets and travel documents, inventory documents we have to fill out for the tribe."

She said she had formulated a list of goals for herself in 2014, and she reaches out to the governor's office at least once each month to communicate about her progress and ask questions about her position.

"The contract that we have was very generic, (so) I did ask questions about what were my roles and responsibilities," Robinson said. "I don't have anything to hide from anybody. ... I'm just trying to do what I thought was really the role of the liaison."

Robinson and Gary Collins -- the liaison for the Northern Arapaho Tribe -- spend their time communicating with state and tribal officials to enhance understanding between both government entities. Collins has been working recently to educate tribal members and state leaders about the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, for example, and he wants to do see more collaboration with the University of Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

"We're working on a whole host of things to develop infrastructure," Collins said. "We work our butts off, (and) we're very cost-beneficial. Whatever's spent on us, we multiply that many times over."

More paperwork

He knows that public entities like the state of Wyoming need to be accountable for the money they expend, however, so he understands the need for the deliverables -- which weren't defined in the past according to Collins.

"No one ever said, 'These are the guidelines you need to (follow),'" Collins said.

Now, he anticipates spending more time filling out forms in order to satisfy state government officials.

"Out of the 12 months I do my work I'm going to have to take two months and just do paperwork," Collins said.

Funding mechanism

The deliverable reports will be beneficial, though, because they will educate legislators about the work of tribal liaisons, Collins pointed out.

"It's an overall good thing," he said. "In summary, there was a glitch in Cheyenne, and we took a good look at it. ... A positive outcome justifies what we're doing."

Collins has been the Northern Arapaho liaison since 2007, when he was appointed to the position by Gov. David Freudenthal. In the past, Collins said, tribal liaisons were employed by the state and received government benefits, vehicle allowances and a support staff in addition to salaries.

Several years ago, the liaisons were removed from state employment; now the tribes are reimbursed for money spent on liaison salaries and expenses based on the amount budgeted by the state.

EPA

Collins said the perception within his tribe is that the deliverables are being instituted due to a recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to grant treatment as a state to the Wyoming tribes. The opinion redefined the boundary of the reservation, stating that the reservation was not diminished by a 1905 Congressional Act that opened up tribal lands, including the city of Riverton, to homesteading.

Collins said that perception is inaccurate, and Bebout agreed.

"That's just a false rumor," Bebout said. "This started before the EPA came out with its ridiculous decision."

In Collins's opinion, the reservation boundary was established by the U.S. Congress, and federal lawmakers are "the only ones that can change it."

"Like it or not, Riverton is within the boundaries of the reservation," he said.

Others argue that Congress did change the boundary in its 1905 act that ceded land for the Riverton townsite from the reservation and paid the tribes for it.

The state has requested a stay of the EPA decision and has appealed the ruling in the federal 10th Circuit Court. Tribal leaders also requested a partial stay to allow time for local governments to discuss jurisdictional implications of the EPA ruling. The EPA granted the tribal request last month.

Bebout maintains that the EPA is "wrong" about the reservation boundary.

"I'm not going to ever support that," he said. "But there are certain issues we can agree on. Let's work on those (with our liaisons)."