Election Commission chairman resigns amid controversy

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
07/05/2011 02:35 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The chairman of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission submitted his resignation letter Tuesday morning, citing that media outlets have given him a negative public perception during the ongoing principal chief election controversy.

Roger L. Johnson tendered his resignation around 6 a.m. It states that his resignation is effective July 5.

In it, Johnson states that the commission is satisfied that it has performed its duties in complete compliance with the statutes and as ordered by the court. However, because of “misinformation, speculation and conclusions,” the general perception is that the EC is “incompetent and ineffective.”

“The perceptions of favoritism, fraud and incompetence resulting from irresponsible and inaccurate media reports subsequent to the unofficial election results announced early Sunday morning and throughout the process have unreasonably damaged my honor, character and integrity. For me to continue as an effective commissioner under these circumstances is impossible,” Johnson states.

Johnson states he trusts the remaining four commissioners and his successor will continue with the election process until it’s complete.

He states the paramount reason for his decision to resign was the “untrue, irresponsible and inaccurate” articles reported by some of the media, especially the Tulsa World.

Johnson states the newspaper published that “the recount changed the result” when it reported the certification of Principal Chief Chad Smith as the winner of the election on July 27. The only official recount that took place occurred by court order on June 30, Johnson states.

He states the Tulsa World also reported in a photo caption for Smith that he was initially declared the winner on June 25 by a margin of fewer than 10 votes.

“Fact, the commission never declared Chief Smith the winner Saturday night or anytime Sunday morning. However, at approximately 7 a.m., Sunday morning we announced unofficially that Mr. Baker was ahead by 11 votes. Obviously the Tulsa World and others don’t understand the meaning of the word unofficial,” Johnson states.

He adds that even though the Tulsa World reported in an article regarding the June 25 election that “counting and recounting” took place during an “all-night session,” there was only one vote count and never a recount of any ballots the night of June 25 or early morning June 26.

“These inaccurate statements by the Tulsa World set in motion the perception of wrongdoing by the election commission,” he states.

In a CN Supreme Court hearing, Johnson states, the EC proved to the court that election documents had been secured by a “chain of custody and not tampered with.”

“The court agreed that the two entries into the vault after lockdown to obtain tabulation information did not compromise the security of the election documents,” he states. “However, during my testimony concerning the vault breaches, it was reported by the Cherokee Phoenix, that I had lied under oath and testified that the vault had not been opened after the initial lockdown. This statement as reported by the Phoenix is absolutely false. It is obvious to me that they made a politically motivated decision to discredit me. And for that, I am crushed.”

In his June 30 testimony before the Supreme Court, Johnson said the ballots were secured in the vault at approximately 7 a.m. Sunday morning and no one had been in the vault.

“We have not been in the vault to observe those ballots or anything. They haven’t been touched,” he told Chief Justice Darell Matlock, according to testimony transcripts.

This statement was used by the Phoenix in its reporting of the hearing and for Johnson’s statement.

During the same hearing, EC Clerk Joyce Gourd testified that the vault had been opened twice after it was reportedly secured on June 26. She testified with the commission’s permission she opened the vault for Terry Rainey of Automated Election Services.

Principal Chief Chad Smith said Johnson’s resignation letter speaks for itself.

“I think he is a man of the highest integrity and best will. But he’s been challenged, and he believes it’s what’s best for the process, for him to step aside,” Smith said.

Principal Chief-elect Bill John Baker said he appreciated Johnson’s service as EC chairman.

“I appreciate him overlooking a recount election that was fair and accurate,” Baker said.

The Tribal Council appointed Johnson to the EC. His term began in March 2008 and was set to expire Oct. 1, 2011. Because the council appointed him, by the tribe’s election law, it must appoint his replacement.

Click here to read Roger Johnson’s resignation letter

Click here to read Roger Johnson’s resignation statement

Click here to read a transcript of the CN Supreme Court hearing

will-chavez@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
05/26/2016 10:45 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to a United Keetoowah Band press release, UKB Assistant Chief Joe H. Bunch was sworn in as principal chief during a May 25 ceremony held in the UKB Community Service Court Chambers. UKB District Judge Dewayne Littlejohn administered the oath of office to Bunch a day after the Tribal Council voted to remove former Principal Chief George Wickliffe from office during an impeachment process. “This is an unfortunate event, but we are going to move forward. Many of our members depend on our services and in what we do as elected officials. This is a good time to start the healing process. I expect nothing but the best as we move forward,” Bunch said after taking his oath. Bunch was elected in a 2014 special election to serve the final two years of the late Assistant Chief Charles Locust’s four-year term. With the removal of Wickliffe, Bunch now fills the principal chief’s role for the remainder of that four-year term. Wickliffe was elected to his third four-year term in November 2012. On May 24, UKB citizens listened to articles of impeachment against Wickliffe by Tahlequah District Rep. Anile Locust and Tribal Secretary Ella Mae Worley. Among the allegations against Wickliffe 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 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 Charles Locust’s widow without Tribal 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. Wickliffe initially balked when given the opportunity to respond to the charges. 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. “Neither does the council. I didn’t know the United Keetoowah Band could do this.” The Tribal Council adjourned into executive session for 90 minutes before reconvening and voting 7-4 to remove Wickliffe from office for violating the UKB’s Constitution. The Tribal Council also barred him from holding an elected or appointed position within the tribe. Following the removal vote, Bunch ordered Wickliffe to turn in his office keys and tribal cell phone and was escorted out by UKB Lighthorse. Wickliffe has seven days from May 24 to file an appeal in the tribe’s court system. The next UKB election will be Nov. 7. All district representative, treasurer, secretary, assistant chief and principal chief positions will be open for election.
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.”