Cherokee council approves pay increases

Wednesday, December 15th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) -- A vote by Cherokee Nation legislators to give themselves a $7,000 pay raise comes as the tribe is still trying to determine its financial condition. The council voted 10-5 on Monday to increase annual salaries for council members from $16,800 to $23,800 and to allow $4,800 a yearfor meeting allowances.

Council member John Ketcher, a former deputy chief, defended the increase. He said legislative pay lags behind that of other branches of government. The council members are elected from a 14-county district and their duties have expanded with growth of the 200,000-member tribe, he said. "They attend numerous committee meetings, are in contact with many constituents and program people personally and by telephone on a daily basis," Ketcher said. "This is neither an 8-to-5 nor a Monday-through-Friday job if we are to represent the constituents adequately."

But Harold "Jiggs" Phillips voted against the increase. "We still don't have a clear picture of our money situation," Phillips said Tuesday. "We do know we have a large indebtedness or obligation, and we have not reached a conclusion as to how to handle it."

Phillips cited attorney fees owed by the tribe and a $1million-plus emergency medical services building that is now under construction, although the tribe has made no appropriation for it. He said an audit of finances under the previous administration also is pending. "I think we need to be sensitive to the Cherokee citizens, and they have definitely told us they are opposed to a salary increase at this time," Phillips said.

A majority of the council turned down his request to postpone action on the pay increase. The increases take effect April 1. The tribe's finances were the prime issue in Chief Chad Smith's election victory last summer.