AG opinion: Councilor wrongly barred Phoenix video
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.
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A white former Oklahoma police officer was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in the off-duty fatal shooting of his daughter's black boyfriend after jurors in three previous trials couldn't decide whether to find him guilty of murder.
Jurors deliberated about six hours Wednesday night before finding ex-Tulsa officer Shannon Kepler, 57, guilty of the lesser charge in the August 2014 killing of 19-year-old Jeremey Lake, who had just started dating Kepler's then-18-year-old daughter, Lisa.
The jury recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 20.
Lake's death occurred four days before a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014. Brown's killing touched off months of protests and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which decries police violence against minorities and calls for greater transparency from law enforcement officials, especially in cases of officer-involved shootings.
The issue of race had also become an undercurrent in each of Kepler's previous three trials, with only one African-American being selected for each jury and accusations by civil rights activists that Kepler's attorneys were purposely trying to exclude potential black candidates.
Another racial element had been recently added to the case when Kepler argued that he couldn't be tried by state prosecutors because he's a member of an American Indian tribe. A judge determined the fourth trial in less than a year could move forward in state court. Kepler says he's 1/128th Muscogee (Creek).
Kepler's attorneys said the 24-year-police veteran was trying to protect Lisa Kepler because she had run away from home and was living in a crime-ridden neighborhood. Defense attorney Richard O'Carroll said Lisa had been in and out of a homeless shelter after her father forbade her from bringing men home into the house.
Kepler told investigators Lake was armed and that he was acting in self-defense, but police didn't find a weapon on Lake or at the scene.
"He's bringing it, I'm bringing it," Kepler said from the witness stand. "It was either him or me. I'm not going to stand there and get shot."
Kepler retired from the force after he was charged.
Prosecutors said Kepler first watched his daughter and Lake from his SUV before approaching them on the street. Lake's aunt disputed Kepler's self-defense account and has said her nephew was reaching out to shake Kepler's hand to introduce himself when Kepler fired.
During closing arguments, Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray referred to Kepler's claim that he thought Lake was armed as "the phantom gun" defense.
Neither O'Carroll nor District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler immediately returned phone calls seeking comment.
Jurors in the previous three trials had deadlocked 11-1, 10-2 and 6-6, forcing the judge to declare mistrials. Although they couldn't agree on the murder charge, jurors in the first trial convicted Kepler of recklessly using his firearm.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Outpatient mental health and substance abuse programs for 189,000 Oklahoma residents, including some addicted to opioids, will be eliminated or slashed on Nov. 1 because of state budget cuts, the state mental health agency director said Wednesday.
Commissioner Terri White of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said the agency will have to drastically cut its budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 if state lawmakers don't fill a $215 million hole in the state budget. The hole was created when the state Supreme Court overturned a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax that was supposed to help fund the agency.
"These cuts...are unbearable," White said at a news conference in front of the agency's Crisis Center. "They will decimate the state's behavioral health system." White said the cut to her agency of $75 million, or 23 percent of the total budget will result in the loss of another $106 million in federal matching funds and will be implemented almost entirely in the second half of the fiscal year.
Oklahoma has the highest percentage in the nation of people over the age of 12 who have used prescription pain relievers for non-medical reasons in the last year, according to a July report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The budget cuts will eliminate funding for drug courts, which provide treatment options for criminal defendants who are addicted to opioids and other addictive substances.
Oklahoma lawmakers convened a special legislative session on Sept. 25 to consider ways to raise new revenue and avoid dramatic cuts, but recessed without an agreement.
Negotiations between Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders are continuing. GOP Floor Leader Jon Echols of Oklahoma City did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
White said the agency will trim $65 million of its budget by eliminating all outpatient services except for the delivery of medication needed by mental health and substance abuse patients. The balance will be cut through the elimination of psychiatric residential treatment for children, White said.
The agency will continue to provide in-patient psychiatric and substance abuse care for the most acutely ill patients, she said.
About 300 state workers will be laid off or terminated due to the cuts as well as thousands of employees in 700 private and nonprofit organizations involved in the mental health and substance abuse fields in the state.
Mental health and law enforcement officials who have daily contact with people with mental health and substance abuse issues said the proposed cuts could devastate the lives of those who receive the services.
"We will lose lives if we cut outpatient services," said Steve Buck, executive director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., will accept arguments over the next month on whether the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline must stage equipment near an American Indian reservation in southern North Dakota to respond to any oil spill under the Missouri River.
The idea is part of a fallback plan proposed by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in August in case U.S. District Judge James Boasberg eventually decided to allow the four-state pipeline to continue operating while federal officials do more study on the $3.8 billion project's impact on the tribe.
Boasberg ruled on Oct. 11 that oil could keep flowing from western North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to a distribution point in Illinois, as it has been since June 1. President Donald Trump earlier this year pushed through the pipeline's completion.
On Wednesday, Boasberg conferred with attorneys on both sides of an ongoing tribal lawsuit against the pipeline and set a timeline for arguments on Standing Rock's proposal. It includes increased public reporting of pipeline issues such as repairs, and implementation of an emergency spill response plan — including equipment staging — at the crossing beneath the Missouri River's Lake Oahe reservoir.
The tribe gets its water from the reservoir and fears harm from any spill. Standing Rock is the leader of four Sioux tribes hoping to convince Boasberg to shut down the line, which Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners maintains is safe.
Boasberg won't make a decision until the Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project, completes more study that he ordered in June on the pipeline's impact on Standing Rock. The additional review isn't likely to be completed until next spring, according to the Corps.
Boasberg in his ruling allowing pipeline operations to continue noted that the Corps and ETP had not yet expressed their positions on the tribe's "alternative relief" plan and said he would hear arguments on the matter. He'll make a decision on the proposal sometime after mid-November under the timeline for arguments that he set Wednesday.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says federal officials have extended the state's deadline for complying with the REAL ID Act to Oct. 10, 2018.
Fallin said Thursday that the compliance deadline was extended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The agency's previous deadline for complying with the federal law passed last week.
Fallin says the extension means that the federal government will continue to recognize Oklahoma driver's licenses and ID cards for entering federal buildings and installations for another year.
Fallin signed legislation earlier this year to bring the state in compliance with the 2005 law that strengthens rules for government-sanctioned identification. The measure requires state driver's licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States.
TULSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Technologies is hosting job fairs from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 28 at 10837 E. Marshall St.
The tribally owned company anticipates hiring 100 bilingual call center specialists to respond to calls from Disaster Recovery Service Centers. Hired support specialists will answer questions and perform data entry for individuals and businesses affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
CNT is looking for experienced and entry-level bilingual agents. All applicants must be U.S. citizens, be at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma or GED and have the ability to pass a background and drug screening.
Job fair attendees should bring their résumés and be prepared for an interview at the CN Nation Career Services office on Marshall Street.
CNT is part of the Cherokee Nation Businesses family of companies and is headquartered in Tulsa, with a regional office in Fort Collins, Colorado, and client locations nationwide.
CNT provides unmanned systems expertise, information technology services and technology solutions, geospatial information systems services, as well as management and support of programs, projects, professionals and technical staff.
For more information or to apply online, visit <a href="https://cnbjobs.cnb-ss.com/#/jobs/11540" target="_blank">https://cnbjobs.cnb-ss.com/#/jobs/11540</a>.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in October announced the selection of Bryan Rice, a veteran federal administrator and Cherokee Nation citizen, as the new director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that coordinates government-to-government relations with 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States.
“Bryan has a wealth of management expertise and experience that will well serve Indian Country as the BIA works to enhance the quality of life, promote economic opportunity, and carry out the federal responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives,” Zinke said. “I have full confidence that Bryan is the right person at this pivotal time as we work to renew the department’s focus on self-determination and self-governance, give power back to the tribes, and provide real meaning to the concept of tribal sovereignty.”??
Rice, who started his new position on Oct. 16 recently led the Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire, and has broad experience leading Forestry, Wildland Fire and Tribal programs across the Interior, BIA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Native Americans face significant regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to economic freedom and success,” Rice said. “I am honored to accept this position and look forward to implementing President Trump’s and Secretary Zinke’s regulatory reform initiative for Indian Country to liberate Native Americans from the bureaucracy that has held them back economically.”
His federal government career has spanned nearly 20 years, beginning with service on the Helena Interagency Hotshot Crew for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana.
He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, working in both community forestry and rural development and supervised timber operations as a timber sale officer on the Yakama Reservation as well as a forester on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
Rice also served in leadership capacities internationally in Tanzania, Mexico, Brazil and Australia for both Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. ??
Rice has served in two senior executive service natural resources management leadership positions, including as deputy director for the BIA Office of Trust Services from 2011-14, and as director of Forest Management in the U.S. Forest Service from 2014-16. ??
Rice spent his school years in the Midwest in Whitewater, Wisconsin, and Peoria, Illinois. ?He holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alaska – Southeast, focusing on rural development and transportation systems.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he looks forward to working with Rice.
“The Cherokee Nation is certainly proud of our citizen, Bryan Rice, and his accomplished career stemming in natural resources and now in Washington, D.C., overseeing the agency that most directly works with all federally recognized Indian tribes,” Baker said.
Rice’s position does not require Senate confirmation.