Cass board asks Attorney General's Office for opinion on TERO

By Gail DeBoer

PILLAGER - The Cass County Board, in a resolution approved June 7, has requested an opinion from the Attorney General's Office to determine the extent of tribal authority over non-trust lands, non-Indians and local governments as related to TERO, the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance.

In the ordinance, commissioners also directed county departments not to proceed with any contract or order that would recognize the sovereign authority of the Leech Lake Band, or to pay any requested TERO fees.

TERO was recently adopted and implemented by the tribal council of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, with no advance notice to Cass or other governmental jurisdictions. It asserts sovereign jurisdiction over all "covered employers" who employ at least one employee at a job site on the Leech Lake reservation, where the contract or grant is $5,000 or more.

The ordinance also regulates employment practices of the employers, including Indian preference hiring and payment of an "Employment Rights Fee" which can be as high as 3 percent of the cost of a $200,000 project. Projects of lesser amounts would be assessed lower fees. TERO would affect both private and public projects. The tribe has begun enforcing TERO fee and hiring provisions.

Fees would be used for job skills training of American Indians to create a pool of employees who could be hired to work on construction projects on the reservation. The fees also would support TERO program infrastructure.

Cass County's resolution stated that no county department "shall execute any contract or comply with any order that recognizes the sovereign authority of the Leech Lake Band...with respect to the implementation of [TERO] beyond land held in trust...."

It also asked that the governor prohibit state agencies from executing contracts or complying with any order that recognizes the Leech Lake band's authority, with respect to implementing TERO.

Research requested by Cass through the Association of Minnesota Counties showed the only instance of a TERO-type ordinance in Minnesota was implemented by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, County Administrator Robert Yochum reported. That situation appears to have affected only public projects on or near that reservation. "To our knowledge, there was no fee structure and it did not apply to private projects funded by private finances," he related.

Yochum added June 10 that Cass had been told by TERO director Mark Rogers that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has agreed to recognize the Leech Lake ordinance with respect to its state highway contracts within a 50- mile radius of the reservation boundary.

TERO has been used most often in western states by tribes with closed reservations. The Leech Lake reservation is open and includes both trust lands set aside by the federal government for tribal members, and private parcels that may be owned by either Indians or non-Indians.

County Attorney Earl Maus said he hopes soon to hear from the Attorney General's office on various aspects of TERO enforcement, including whether present reservation boundaries, negotiated for game and fish enforcement apply to TERO. Maus also is contacting attorneys from states where TERO has been enacted for their opinions.

Walker businessman Dale Jones said he knew of instances where buyers are holding off on property decisions until they find out what happens with TERO. He predicted a drop in property values if TERO is enacted and speculated that in the long run, it could be more detrimental than beneficial to Native Americans themselves.

Hackensack businessman Jack Thomas suggested that under TERO, a union contractor working on a project on the reservation would be required to hire 50 percent Indian workers, which could result in union workers walking off the job. He mentioned this to TERO Director Mark Rogers at a recent meeting where Rogers was the speaker. The job skills training provision duplicates training already available at area vo-tech schools, Thomas added.

Yochum said he will either invite the tribal council to meet with the county board to discuss TERO, or attempt to get on the agenda of the next council meeting. Previous attempts to schedule joint meetings were cancelled by the council.

Printed with permission of the Walker Independence.