AG opinion: Councilor wrongly barred Phoenix video

BY TRAVIS SNELL
Assistant Editor – @cp_tsnell
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 LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/25/2016 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After a 90-minute executive session, the United Keetoowah Band’s Tribal Council on May 24 voted 7-4 to remove Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office. “Turn in your keys, walkie-talkie, radio and anything else you have,” Assistant Chief Joe Bunch said, drawing cheers from the standing room only crowd at the Jim Proctor Elder Community Center. Along with removal from office, Wickliffe was also barred for life from holding any elected or appointed positions within the tribe. [BLOCKQUOTE]Citing financial improprieties, the tribe’s treasurer, Ella Mae Worley, filed three articles of impeachment against Wickliffe earlier in the month. Among the allegations against Wickliffe contained within the three counts were: • Prohibited Worley and her predecessor, Shelbi Wofford, from having full access to the tribe’s financial records, its now-closed casino and nongaming businesses, • Signed multiple contracts without Tribal Council authorization, • Authorized almost $400,000 in cash advances to himself and Delaware District Rep. Jerry Hansen, Saline District Rep. Charles Smoke and Goingsnake District Rep. Willie Christie (Christie has since repaid the tribe), • Used a tribal credit card to pay his personal accounts with DirectTV, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas, as well as at least two of his son’s bills, • Used a tribal credit card to reclaim at least three guns from a local pawn shop, • Used a tribal credit card to buy tires for three Tribal Councilors, plus a range top and air conditioning unit for a family member, • Provided himself with $5,000 in scholarship funds after the tribe curtailed its higher education program, • Allowed the UKB Corporate Authority Board to sell a $30,000 tribal vehicle to the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust for $5,000, • Authorized the disbursement of more than $40,000 from the tribe’s general fund and more than $4,000 from the motor fuel fund to Locust’s widow without council approval, and • Allowed his personal secretary to apply for services that she was not eligible for, as well as drive a government-issued vehicle without a current driver’s license. “I didn’t do this because I wanted to,” Worley said. “I did this because it is the right thing to do. This is the people’s money.” On all counts against Wickliffe, the Tribal Council reached a simple majority on each against him. However, as per the UKB Constitution, at least two-thirds of the Tribal Council had to vote for Wickliffe’s removal, as well as barring him from holding any elected or appointed position. Those voting for removal were Worley, Bunch, Secretary Joyce Hawk, Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust, Sequoyah District Rep. Barry Dotson, Illinois District Rep. Peggy Girty and Flint District Rep. Tom Duncan. The final officer to cast a vote for removal, Hawk silently deliberated for several minutes, eliciting calls of “Do the right thing” and other comments from the crowd. Hansen, Smoke, Christie and Canadian District Rep. Eddie Sacks voted against Wickliffe’s removal. Cooweescoowee District Rep. Clifford Wofford was absent. Wickliffe has seven days to file an appeal with the tribe’s judiciary. Elected to his third four-year term in November 2012, the now-former chief said little during the hearing and initially balked when given the opportunity to defend himself. When he did accept a microphone, he said he could not be wholly blamed for the tribe’s financial straits since its casino closed in 2013 and would have returned the money if he had been asked. “I don’t owe the tribe anything,” he said, eliciting jeers from the audience. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.” Escorted by Lighthorse officers, Wickliffe did not speak to reporters after the hearing.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/25/2016 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials donated $15,000 to the Hulbert Police Department earlier this month to help maintain the city’s fleet of police vehicles. Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan presented a check to Hulbert Police Chief Casey Rowe. “It’s important to help our communities, especially when it involves protecting residents and keeping neighborhoods in Hulbert safe,” Jordan, of Hulbert, said. “Sometimes city budgets can only go so far, so it’s great that the Cherokee Nation could help the city police department meet some of its needs.” The funds are from Tribal Councilors Jordan, David Walkingstick and Joe Byrd from Tribal Council law enforcement funds. “In this small community, donations help out a lot,” Rowe said. “It lets us show how safe our community can be with the Cherokee Nation’s help and we really appreciate this donation.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/25/2016 12:00 PM
HULBERT, Okla. – Cherokee Nation leaders celebrated the grand opening of the Hulbert Splash Pad with Hulbert city officials and law enforcement on May 16. The CN donated more than $50,000 over two years for park improvements, which includes building of the new splash pad and road paving to the park entrance. “In a community like Hulbert, the city park is the central location for youth activities, especially during the summer. Now, families will have a wonderful and safe environment for their kids to play, have fun and enjoy the new water features,” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “The equipment means Cherokee kids will have a new opportunity, but so will all our friends and neighbors. These kinds of infrastructure improvements make northeast Oklahoma a great place to live and raise a family.” The Hulbert Splash Pad is at the Hulbert City Park on Main Street. “A small community like this has a limited amount of money and limited number of places to go to apply for funds,” said Hulbert Mayor Shirley Teague. “This would not be possible without the help of the Cherokee Nation and we could not be more appreciative.” A penny sales tax was passed by residents to also fund part of the park upgrades. “It’s great that our community can enjoy some of the same amenities that other cities do and I’m glad the Cherokee Nation could step up and lend a hand in accomplishing this goal with our community partners,” Tribal Councilor Rex Jordan said. The Hulbert Splash Pad is now open until Labor Day and is free.
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/25/2016 10:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A send-off ceremony for the 2016 “Remember the Removal Memorial Ride” will take place beginning at 9 a.m. on May 31 in the Tribal Council Chambers at the W.W. Keeler Complex. The event will be live streamed on the Internet and can be viewed by visiting <a href="http://www.cherokee.org" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org</a>. The cyclists have been meeting in Tahlequah since January to take Cherokee history classes and train together to prepare for the 1,000-mile journey from Georgia to Oklahoma. They will travel to Cherokee, North Carolina, where they will join seven cyclists from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. On June 5, they begin their journey from New Echota, Georgia, following the northern route of the Trail of Tears. This overland route was used by Cherokee detachments that left southeastern Tennessee in 1838 and traveled through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas before reaching Indian Territory in the winter and spring of 1839. They are expected to arrive back in Tahlequah on June 24. During the ceremony the Cherokee National Youth Choir will perform the Star Spangled Banner, and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd will welcome families and visitors to the ceremony. The keynote speaker will be Principal Chief Bill John Baker. Fourth grade students from the Cherokee Immersion Charter School also will perform, and 2015 RTR cyclist Billy Flint will offer words of encouragement to the 10 cyclists. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. will make the closing remarks for the ceremony.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
05/25/2016 08:30 AM
STILWELL, Okla. – The 69th annual Stilwell Strawberry Festival was held May 13-15, and as usual it brought thousands of visitors to Adair County. From a business standpoint, Cherokee Nation citizen and owner of Okie Joe’s BBQ Joe Fletcher said the Strawberry Festival is a boom for area businesses. “These are huge days for Okie Joe’s as well as the downtown economy of Stilwell. There’s 30,000 people who come to town for this event. It’s one of the biggest events in the state of Oklahoma. We’re proud to have it. We want to be a part of it, and we put everything we have into it. I would say this week in general, as far as business goes, is one of the biggest weeks of the year. We’ll probably (get) three times the business that we normally do.” Fletcher also said adding giant turkey legs to his menu during festival weekend has been a big success. “We specialize in barbecue turkey legs on festival day and will probably sell between 500 and 600 of them in the next few hours. This is a wonderful push for us before the slower summer season hits.” Miss Cherokee 2015-16 Jalisi Byrd Pittman said the festival has been a part of her young life. “It’s such a historic part of the town of Stilwell. They are known for their strawberries and have been know for their strawberries for as long as my family can remember. It is one of Adair County’s greatest celebrations. I would not miss this.” Along with the parade and strawberries, the Stilwell Festival also included a strawberry competition, beauty pageant, midway, car show, rodeo, live music and street vendors. Organizers also said next year’s festival would be the biggest yet. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the tribe was well-represented at the festival and for good reason. “Adair County is one of the most highly Cherokee populated communities that we have. The Cherokee Nation has tents set up. We have booths with all kinds of informational pieces, and over a dozen Cherokee Nation departments represented on floats in the parade today. It wouldn’t be the Strawberry Festival without the Cherokee Nation and it wouldn’t be the Cherokee Nation without the Strawberry Festival.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/24/2016 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On May 27, Cherokee Nation officials will honor Cherokee warriors who lost their lives while serving in the armed services with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cherokee Warrior Memorial. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. next to the tribe’s Veterans Center and will include the raising of the flags, a performance by the Cherokee National Youth Choir and remarks by Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. After the ceremony, there will be a reception at the Veterans Center located at 17675 S. Muskogee Ave. For more information, call 918-772-4166.