More than 20 representatives of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the Mille Lacs Band government met at Grand Casino Mille Lacs on October 2 to discuss issues of importance to all three branches and how best to meet Band members' needs.
The Legislative Branch hosted the meeting, with Chief Communications Officer Val Harrington leading the group in an ice breaker before jumping into the agenda.
First on the agenda was the issue of $50 reconnection fees charged to Band members whose power has been cut off. That discussion led to a broader conversation about energy, including an update from Commissioner of Corporate Affairs Joe Nayquonabe on a proposed solar array that will help power Grand Casino Hinckley — while saving the Band $4.1 million over the lifetime of the panels.
Secretary/Treasurer Sheldon Boyd recommended using Band member financing to lower power bills.
Second on the agenda was a proposed General Welfare Exclusion Act, which would allow Band members to save taxes on per capita payments by using them for mortgages and other necessities.
Sheldon gave updates on two of his priorities: improved oversight of Band investments, and a proposed Open Meetings and Data Security Act.
Sheldon said the investments have grown at a faster pace than the Band’s ability to monitor them. A Request for Proposals has been published, seeking a company to review the Band's assets and come up with a management plan, possibly including the creation of an investment board.
Sheldon didn’t want to point the finger at anyone or assume that things are not as they should be. "We've done pretty good, but there's room for improvement, and that's what I'm looking for," he said.
Sheldon also ran on a platform of transparency, and as a step in that direction, he shared a draft of a proposed legislation: Title 27: The Open Meetings and Data Security Act. He said he is looking for input from commissioners to determine how their departments may be affected, and areas that need to be addressed to protect confidentiality while providing access to information.
Finally, the group discussed biennium budget increases and decreases. As membership has grown and casino revenue has leveled off in recent years, government departments have had to cut back, which results in fewer services and staff. Commissioners have been tasked with putting together two-year budgets that hold to the last biennium’s totals. That is a challenge given the increased costs of doing business and the desire to provide improved services and facilities for Band members.
Despite some clear frustrations, it was a productive meet- ing that allowed each branch to better understand the interests and challenges faced by the other branches.
Three-branch meetings will continue to be held quarterly through the year.
Band Assembly held a three-branch meeting
on October 2 at Grand Casino Mille Lacs. Much
discussion was focused on budgets — ways
to save money, to invest wisely, to supervise
investments, to budget fairly and responsibly, are
just a few of the items discussed.
Tribal Electric Sovereignty
Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures is looking at
exploring energy options with solar power.
Currently, a project is in the very genesis stages for
a solar field to be located in Hinkley. While there
are still a lot of steps to go through before the
project is off the ground, having this field in Hinkley
could provide an energy savings in the first year
alone estimated at roughly $9,000. MLCV is also
digging into exploring other potential savings ideas.
Budgets for fiscal year 2020 are nearly complete.
Government spending was on the table for
discussion, and several areas made hard cuts to the
budget. One area that is expected to be particularly
higher than average is the Office of the Solicitor
General due to the opioid lawsuit and the federal
lawsuit between the Band and Mille Lacs County
over the law enforcement agreement. While the
costs of these lawsuits are high, they are for the
benefit of the entire Band. The OSG is looking for
options for funding the pipeline lawsuit.
Other areas of the budget under discussion are
wastewater and high garbage bills. Officials
discussed cutting costs in more areas and possibly
cutting programs and positions to tighten the
General Welfare Exclusion Act
Band Assembly discussed a joint resolution to
the General Welfare Exclusion Act and are in the
review process looking for red flags. The OSG is
looking at previous cases and the history to learn
from other court cases.
Tadd Johnson gave a presentation to the Band
Assembly regarding the TEC.