Cherokee Nation elected officials

Incoming Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. (left) and Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd would see higher salaries under a recommendation from the Cherokee Nation Compensation Committee. Tulsa World file photos

TAHLEQUAH — Barring action by its Tribal Council, elected officials at the Cherokee Nation are about to get five-figure raises come August.

A report from the Cherokee Nation Compensation Committee submitted earlier this week recommends pay increases ranging from 26% for Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd to 104% for the deputy chief.

If approved, Principal Chief-elect Chuck Hoskin Jr. would make $350,000 per year upon taking office next month, or an 84% increase over outgoing Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s salary of $190,000.

Deputy Chief-elect Bryan Warner would be paid $233,333, compared to outgoing Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden’s $114,000 salary. Additionally, Byrd would receive $95,000, Deputy Speaker Victoria Vasquez would receive $90,000 and the remaining 15 councilors would each be paid $85,000.

As per Cherokee Nation law, the proposed raises will automatically take effect within 30 days unless the legislation is introduced at a meeting of one of two Tribal Council committees: Rules or Executive and Finance. Both are scheduled to meet July 16.

Shawn Crittenden, a Tribal Council member based out of Adair County, posted Wednesday on Facebook that he would try to get the issue on a committee agenda to prevent the raises from being enacted.

“There are too many employees not receiving 35 plus percent raises and too many times I hear that there is not a pot of money for this or that,” he wrote.

The five-member committee meets every four years to offer its input on elected officials’ salaries. The executive branch is responsible for appointing two members, and another two members are appointed by the legislative branch. The other four select the fifth member.

In 2015, the committee recommended that Principal Chief Baker receive a $5,000 pay increase annually for four years, with a $3,000 annual increase for Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden, $2,000 annual raises for each member of the Tribal Council and a $12,000 stipend for the council’s speaker.

Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Julie Hubbard confirmed Friday that the committee began compiling the necessary data for its recommendation almost four months before the tribe’s general election. In addition to looking at market data, the committee members also weighed the salaries of elected officials of other area tribes.

For comparison purposes, in 2018, the Choctaw Nation approved an annual base salary of $150,000 for its legislators, plus mileage for travel to council meetings and events hosted by the tribe’s executive branch where attendance is requested in writing. In 2011, the Chickasaw Nation voted to double Gov. Bill Anoatubby’s base salary from $300,000 per year to $600,000.

“Typically our Cherokee Nation employees receive a cost of living increase each Oct. 1, so this adjustment builds in that increase for our elected leaders, as well,” Hubbard said. “It also compensates our top elected officials, who serve the largest federally recognized tribe in the United States, with a pay scale that is more comparable, but still less than what elected leaders from some of our neighboring tribal nations earn.”

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