AG opinion: Councilor wrongly barred Phoenix video

BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor
11/26/2008 11:11 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a Nov. 18 opinion, the tribe’s Attorney General’s Office stated Council Speaker Meredith Frailey wrongly denied the Cherokee Phoenix video coverage of a June public forum concerning the tribe’s planned takeover of W.W. Hastings Indians Hospital.

“The Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information and Right of Privacy Act of 2001 provides members of the public and the press with a statutory right to make sonic recordings at open meetings,” the opinion states. “Government employees and officials do not have the authority to restrict the tribal newspaper staff from making a video recording of a public meeting or forum unless the restriction is reasonable, narrowly tailored, advances a substantial government interest and does not obstruct other alternative forms of communication.”

Cherokee Phoenix staffer Craig Henry said Frailey told him he was not allowed to video record a June 26 public forum where tribal health officials, administration cabinet members and councilors answered questions from the public and discussed Cherokee Nation’s planned assumption of Hastings.

He said before the event Frailey asked CN Communications Officer Mike Miller and CN Leadership Group Leader Todd Enlow if they had set up the camera.

“They told her no, so she turned to me and said I had to take it down,” Henry said. “She told me they (she and forum co-sponsor Councilor Bradley Cobb) were not allowing anyone to record the meeting. She said they were afraid people would be reluctant to speak if there were cameras.”

Henry also said Frailey told him several other media outlets had inquired about video access and that they were denied.

“We considered this a public forum, and it was called primarily for the benefit of W.W. Hastings employees so they could learn and discuss freely the topics concerning the future of Hastings hospital,” Frailey said. “We felt that video taping such an event would have a rather chilling effect on the free flow of ideas and communications concerning the issues that arose.”

However, according to the opinion, “Members of the public may be unable, due to work or family commitments, to attend the forum on the date and time prescribed. Having a recording of the event available to the public allows a larger number of citizens to benefit from the public discourse. Many of the questions asked by members of the public at the forum may be questions of interest to all of the citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”

Jami Custer, the staff writer who covered the forum, said no audience comments were made during or after the officials’ presentation and that audience members wrote questions on paper and put them into a box.

The questions were later read by Cobb, who allowed officials to answer. She added that the only audience member who spoke during the forum did so to reiterate a question he wrote for the panel to answer.

Frailey said the forum’s original plan called for allowing public comments, but because the forum ran long, Cobb, who moderated the event, didn’t open it up for comments.

The two councilors sponsored the forum so the tribe’s negotiation team could publicly present an overview of the proceedings with Indian Health Service about the planned Hastings takeover from the IHS.

Secretary of State Melanie Knight said Cobb and Frailey were two of the four councilors designated by the council’s Health Committee who attended the negotiations.
About the Author
Travis Snell has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2000. He began as a staff writer, a position that allowed him to win numerous writing awards from the Native American Journalists Association, including the Richard LaCourse Award for best investigative story in 2003. He was promoted to assistant editor in 2007, switching his focus from writing to story development, editing, design and other duties.

He is a member of NAJA, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Society for News Design.

Travis earned his journalism degree with a print emphasis in 1999 from Oklahoma City University. While at OCU, he served as editor, assistant editor and sports reporter for the school’s newspaper.

He is married to Native Oklahoma publisher Lisa Snell. The couple has two children, Sadie and Swimmer. He is the grandson of original enrollee Swimmer Wesley Snell and Patricia Ann (Roberts) Snell.
TRAVIS-SNELL@cherokee.org • 918-453-5358
Travis Snell has worked for the Cherokee Phoenix since 2000. He began as a staff writer, a position that allowed him to win numerous writing awards from the Native American Journalists Association, including the Richard LaCourse Award for best investigative story in 2003. He was promoted to assistant editor in 2007, switching his focus from writing to story development, editing, design and other duties. He is a member of NAJA, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Society for News Design. Travis earned his journalism degree with a print emphasis in 1999 from Oklahoma City University. While at OCU, he served as editor, assistant editor and sports reporter for the school’s newspaper. He is married to Native Oklahoma publisher Lisa Snell. The couple has two children, Sadie and Swimmer. He is the grandson of original enrollee Swimmer Wesley Snell and Patricia Ann (Roberts) Snell.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
07/28/2015 11:36 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In Oklahoma, there is a tax-free weekend in which the state does not require individuals to pay taxes on clothing and shoes. Oklahoma’s sales tax holiday is set for Aug. 7-9. According to the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s website, the annual sales tax holiday will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 7 and end at midnight on Aug. 9. “Retailers are required to participate and may not collect state and local sales or use tax on most footwear and clothing that are sold for less than $100 during the holiday. Clothing is indicated by all “human wearing apparel,” which includes, but not limited to, aprons, belts, coats, underwear and socks. Having to set aside money for clothing, shoes and school supplies can be a burden on some families that might be struggling financially. USA.gov suggests families to look into qualifying for federal programs that may help ease financial burdens, including low-cost meals and affordable health insurance. For more information and answers to common questions on the sales tax holiday, as well as a listing of sales tax exempt items, please visit the OTC website at <a href="http://www.tax.ok.gov" target="_blank">www.tax.ok.gov</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/27/2015 01:09 PM
OOLOGAH, Okla. – Will Rogers and Wiley Post died in an Alaska plane crash on Aug. 15, 1935. It is often called the “crash heard around the world.” This year the Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-In at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch is set for Aug. 15, the 80th anniversary of the history-making event when bold headlines in newspapers all over the world carried the story. That day and the lives of the two, undoubtedly the world’s strongest aviation boosters of their time, is remembered each year on the Oologah, Indian Territory, ranch were Will Rogers was born. Usually a Sunday event, it was changed to Saturday to reflect the anniversary of the deaths, said Tad Jones, Will Rogers Memorial Museum executive director. Airports across the country have been invited to join in a special Moment of Remembrance at 10 a.m. (CST) at their respective airports to honor those who have lost their lives in a small aircraft accident. At that same time a short program at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch airstrip will pay tribute to the lives of Will and Wiley. Mary West of Oologah will sing the “National Anthem” and Ross Adkins, Fly-In announcer for the past several years, will present the commemoration program and call for a moment of silence. RSU Radio will live stream the tribute at 91.3 FM and on their website <a href="http://www.rsuradio.com" target="_blank">www.rsuradio.com</a>. The popular duo of Lester Lurk and Joe Bacon, aka “Will and Wiley,” will land about 9 a.m. The Fly-In provides an opportunity for the public to get a close-up look at airplanes and meet the pilots. Pilots enjoy the fellowship with fellow aviators and people who just enjoy planes. Cherokee Storyteller Robert Lewis will be under a shade tree with his tales of animals, so much a part of early Cherokee tradition. There will be antique cars, inflatables and games for children and food concessions. Ample parking is provided with rides to the viewing area. Roper Martin Howard and members of the Verdigris School football team have assisted with parking several years. Members of Rogers County Sheriff Mounted Troops will be on hand. Air Evac Lifetime, an air medical service, will fly in and be on hand to show their plane and provide information about the access at the Claremore Regional Airport. Ambulances from Oologah-Talala EMS and Northwest First District will have units for the public to see as well as be on hand for emergencies. Bring your own lawn chair or blanket and enjoy watching planes land and take off, walk among the aircraft, visit the house and see the room where Will was born and remember the day 80 years ago when the world learned Will and Wiley had died in Alaska. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.willrogers.com" target="_blank">www.willrogers.com</a>.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter
07/27/2015 09:19 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results, Bryan Warner won the July 25 runoff for the Cherokee Nation’s Dist. 6 Tribal Council seat. Unofficial results show that Warner received 54.06 percent of votes with 619 votes, while Natalie Fullbright received 45.94 percent of votes or 526 ballots. The numbers include 23 accepted challenged ballots. Warner said he feels truly blessed by the results. “This has been a very humbling experience,” he said. He said when he takes office he wants to take a look at everything and already has an idea of what types of resources the CN needs. He added that he wants to get out and meet more people. “I still think there’s people out there that I didn’t get to visit with in this district, and I want them to feel apart of this process,” he said. Warner said he is grateful to all who cast their vote for him to be the next Dist. 6 Tribal Councilor. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. My family thanks you, all my supporters thank you,” he said. “It’s just been a wonderful experience and there’s no way I could have written it out like this at all. I can’t wait to get to work and see what we can do for Dist. 6. When I say we, I mean all of us.” Warner extended congratulations to Fullbright for a well-ran race. “Her family and all her supporters have been wonderful through this campaign, and I feel like they’re all top-notch individuals. They’ve been cordial, they been kind,” he said. “I hope that we can all get together and work together.” In a Facebook post Fullbright conceded defeat to Warner. “Well guys we lost. Not by a lot but by enough. I think a lot of Bryan, get behind him, support him, pray for him work with him,” it stated. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted Fullbright for comment. “Why in the world are you people calling me? You need to call Bryan Warner,” she said. Dist. 6 covers the eastern part of Sequoyah County. Candidates who won their races will be sworn into office on Aug. 14. According to Election Commission officials, candidates had until July 29 to file for a recount. As of publication there was no request for a recount in the Dist. 6 race.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/27/2015 09:18 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results, Keith Austin won the Dist. 14 Tribal Council race against William “Bill” Pearson on July 25. Unofficial results, which included 26 accepted challenged ballots, show that Austin garnered 498 votes for 53.9 percent of the ballots, while Pearson got 425 votes for 46.1 percent. Austin said he would like to thank the Cherokee Nation citizens of District 14 for allowing him the honor of being elected as their next Tribal Councilor. “I am humbled that you would place your faith and trust in me. This is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, and I will endeavor to represent you with the same energy and integrity that I have practiced throughout life,” he said. “I would like to thank Mr. Pearson for his service to our Nation, the community and his willingness to serve the Cherokee Nation. Also, I would like to thank Councilor Lee Keener for his service to District 14 on the Council and I wish him well with his future endeavors.” The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to Pearson, but he was available for comment. The EC rescheduled the Dist. 14 race after the CN Supreme Court on July 8 ruled that a winner could not be determined with mathematical certainty. Pearson was certified the winner of the Dist. 14 race after the June 27 general election by one vote. Following a recount on July 2, his lead had been extended to six votes. Austin appealed the recount results to the Supreme Court alleging that ballots were cast that should not have been accepted, ballots were cast that should have been accepted and two absentee ballot envelopes could not be found. Candidates elected to office during the general and runoff elections are to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, according to the tribe’s election timeline.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
07/25/2015 10:24 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to unofficial results of the July 25 runoff election, Wanda Hatfield beat opponent Betsy Swimmer for the At-Large Tribal Council seat. Hatfield recorded 745 votes or 51.96 percent of the vote to Swimmer’s 697 votes or 48.04 percent. Hatfield, of Oklahoma City, said that on behalf of the Cherokee Nation At-Large voters, she was honored and humbled for their support. “I would like to say thank you to all the At-Large Cherokee voters who cast a ballot in the primary and runoff election,” she said. “I would like to thank Betsy Swimmer on a professional and very positive campaign for the At-Large seat and I would also like to thank my family, which was my campaign staff, for all their support.” Hatfield added that some of the areas she would like to focus on during her time as the At-Large Tribal Councilor is better communication between the tribe and the At-Large CN citizens, improving education and expanding programs to make the tribe stronger. Swimmer, of Broken Arrow, said she wanted to congratulate Hatfield and that they both ran good races. “It was a close number and we both worked hard,” she said. “It’s been a great experience and I wish Wanda the best and I’ll help her any way I can for the betterment of Cherokee Nation.” Election Services Director Connie Parnell said as of 10 p.m. the Election Commission was working to verify challenge ballots. She said at that time she did not know if any challenge ballots existed for the At-Large race. Hatfield will replace current At-Large Tribal Councilor Julia Coates after the Aug. 14 inauguration. Hatfield and Swimmer earned the right to face each other in the runoff election after placing in the top two spots against eight other candidates for the At-Large seat in the June 27 general election. In the general election, Hatfield garnered 25.94 percent or 1,057 votes, while Swimmer was second with 18.9 percent or 770 votes.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
07/24/2015 02:47 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Complex is undergoing a major renovation in the form of a 31,550-square-foot second story on the west end of the building to create space for a growing workforce. The W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex opened in 1979 and was last renovated in 1992. In 1994, an addition was added to its west side that was meant to have a second story, but funding was not available to add it. The main reason the work is now being done is “space,” CN Construction Manager David Moore said. “We are busting at the seams. We’re going to be at just a little over 100 new offices up there (second floor). Our goal is to own everything our people are in instead of leasing buildings. We prefer to have them here and a majority of our services here,” Moore said. “So far it’s going pretty good.” Moore said the project’s first phase is expected to cost $6 million. The second and third phases did not have estimates as of publication because officials are still soliciting bids. Funds for the project are coming from the tribe’s Planning and Development Fund. Work on the addition began in June. Moore said the project is supposed to take one year, but may take longer. “Once we get the second story complete, we’ll have to move people out at times and they will need some place to move to for a while. And then we’re going to go into the old part (east side of building) and redo the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system,” he said. A more efficient boiler-chiller system will be installed to replace an old inefficient air system. A boiler-chiller system uses water instead of air to heat and cool a structure. Compared with air, water is a more space-efficient method of transferring heat and cold around a building, and hot and cold air will be more evenly distributed throughout the building with the new system, Moore said. “This new system will be efficient. We’ll pretty much have a brand new HVAC system throughout the building. It will be all the same. Our utility bills ought to come down,” he said. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the tribe is investing in its future by “making some long-overdue improvements” to the Tribal Complex. “It’s been more than 20 years since we made quality improvements to our tribal headquarters, and it’s greatly needed,” he said. “We are expanding and adding more space to house our employees and make visits to our Tribal Complex easier for citizens seeking services. Over the years, our staff has grown as we keep expanding programs and services that benefit Cherokee people.” A canopy will be built over the facility’s main entry to help shelter people as they enter and exit. More than 150,000 visitors pass through the Tribal Complex annually for services or to see the government, officials said. A current open-air courtyard inside the building will be where two elevators are to be installed to access the second floor, Moore said. Three elevators will be installed to service the second story and they will all likely be needed to service more than 100 new offices. Also, having extra elevators in case one breaks down is a benefit, Moore said. He said the second story would be built to accommodate at least three departments as well as conference rooms. Officials have not determined which departments would be located on the second floor. With the addition, the Tribal Complex would be about 117,000 square feet. Excluding health centers, the CN employs 2,250 people, but only about 400 employees work in the Tribal Complex. Architectural firm Childers Architect designed the renovation project. The company also designed the Three Rivers Health Center and Vinita Health Center.