Tribal Government & News

Public hearing attempts to capture input on Tribal priorities

Twelve Tribal members testified during a public hearing on Tribal priorities and budgeting held Sunday, June 4, in the Tribal gym about myriad subjects, such as not losing public transit service to Lincoln City, a new sweat lodge, morale of Spirit Mountain Casino employees and increased economic development efforts.

The meeting, which started 20 minutes late due to technical difficulties, began with good news when Tribal Council member Chris Mercier said that the opening of the Cowlitz Tribe’s casino north of Vancouver in late April is not hurting Spirit Mountain Casino’s revenues as much as predicted.

“People will be relieved to know it is not adversely impacting us as much as we thought it would,” Mercier said. “This is kind of new territory for us because for the last 22 years Spirit Mountain has always been the premier gaming destination in Oregon. It has served this Tribe really well.

“This is our first encounter with real competition so we thought it would be a good idea to do some soul searching for the Tribe in terms of services that we offer our membership. What would people like to see if we start feeling the impacts adversely and we are looking at cutting back on services?”

Tribal lobbyist Justin Martin has estimated that the opening of the Cowlitz casino would cost the Grand Ronde Tribe as much as $100 million annually while the draft Tribal budget for 2017 conservatively estimated a 38.8 percent decline in casino revenues that are transferred to the Tribal government to fund such programs as Elders’ pensions, health care and education.

Tribal Finance Officer Chris Leno reviewed Tribal endowments for the approximately 50 people who attended the public hearing to give them context on the Tribe’s finances.

Leno said that despite the Tribe’s use of interest earnings on the endowments to fund programs, all of the endowments are worth more today than they were in 2013. The Tribe is allowed to use a maximum of 15 percent of interest earnings annually to fund governmental programs and operations.

A slide asked Tribal members to consider several questions before giving their public testimony, such as:

  • What do you think Tribal funding priorities should be?

  • How would you define essential government services?

  • Are there programs that should be safeguarded from the effect of the Cowlitz Tribe opening its new casino?

  • If there are budget reductions, what areas should be looked at first?

  • Tribal per capita is currently at 28 percent: If there is a financial impact, should it remain at that percentage?

Tribal Elder Debi Anderson, who lobbied for addressing deferred maintenance and an increased minimum wage at the casino and improved infrastructure in the Grand Ronde area, also said she thinks that if there are budget cuts required that they should be across the board and not concentrated on any one department.

Tribal Elder Ann Lewis said that she was concerned about Tribal health funding considering the Trump administration’s desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut back on Medicaid funding.

Tribal Elder Linda Olson said she is grateful for the Tribal burial fund and that keeping rental assistance and job training programs for members is important.

Tribal Elder and former Tribal Council member Wink Soderberg said that economic development should be a priority for the Tribe.

Tribal Elders Carol Logan and Kathy Provost both said that a better sweat lodge should be a budget priority to allow Tribal members to practice traditional religious practices.

“I feel that every time we bring the subject up, we are ignored,” Provost said.

Other Tribal members who testified included Veronica Gaston, Les McKnight, Tauni McCammon, Michael Langley, Francene Ambrose and Joanna Brisbois.

The public hearing, chaired by Tribal Council Secretary Jon A. George, allowed Tribal members five minutes to speak. The format, which required Tribal members to sign up to speak and did not include responses to questions from Tribal Council members or staff, frustrated several Tribal members who attended because they felt it limited give-and-take conversation.

Other Tribal Council members who attended all or part of the public hearing included Brenda Tuomi, Jack Giffen Jr., Kathleen George, Denise Harvey and Tonya Gleason-Shepek.

Comments on Tribal budgeting priorities still can be submitted to Tribal Council Chief of Staff Stacia Hernandez at The meeting was recorded, but was not filmed by the Tribe’s Information Systems Department for posting on the Tribe website.

Lunch was provided and served by members of the Tribal Youth Council. Soderberg gave the invocation.