To diffuse, disclose

Tribal Council and the Growth Fund should be open about employees’ compensation

Officials of the Southern Ute Indian Tribeís Growth Fund, and the Tribal Council to which they report, have a simple and effective way to address concerns within the tribeís membership about compensation paid to Growth Fund employees. All they have to do is answer any tribal membersí questions openly and fully.

At a Monday meeting organized to look into Growth Fund pay, a number of tribal members expressed a desire to talk with tribal leaders about complaints about the Fundís compensation rates. That would be exactly the right thing to do, provided that the tribe is committed to openness with its members.

Tribal members can be likened to stockholders in a corporation. They do not run day-to-day affairs, and choose leaders who do. But they have a right to know what is being done in their name and with what is ultimately their money. Asking to be kept informed is not out of line.

How well the Growth Fund compensates its employees, particularly higher-paid managers and executives, has long been a bone of contention for some tribal members, particularly in that many of the Growth Fundís top earners are neither Ute nor Native American.

Much of that criticism is probably unfair. The Growth Fund can hardly fill a technical or specialized position by hiring a tribal member with no training or experience in the field. And, as Growth Fund officials say, its hiring is often in highly competitive industries where good people command top salaries.

All that should be easy to explain. If the money paid to Growth Fund employees is justified by market realities, laying out the facts in dollars and cents would be the simplest way to allay concerns.

But the reverse is true as well. Much of the dissent within the tribe is fostered by rumors and hearsay, often baseless. Even when factually accurate such information carries with it no context and no broader understanding.

If that sort of communication is the alternative, continuing to stonewall tribal membersí legitimate questions is the surest way to foster misunderstanding and, ultimately, hostility within the tribe. It would be much better for Growth Fund officials to answer any questions fully and openly.