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
06/25/2016 10:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A man who pleaded guilty in the killing of a prostitute featured on the HBO series “Cathouse” and three other people has testified in the Oklahoma City trial of two other men charged in the case. The Oklahoman reports that Cherokee Nation citizen Jonathan A. Cochran, 37, testified June 7 at the trial of Denny Phillips and Russell Hogshooter. Both men charged with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy in the deaths of Brooke Phillips, Milagros Barrera, Jennifer Lynn Ermey and Casey Mark Barrientos. The other two murder charges are because Brooke Phillips and Barrerra were pregnant. Hogshooter is accused of shooting Brooke Phillips, who was among the prostitutes featured on the cable network’s show about the Moonlite BunnyRanch, a legal brothel near Carson City, Nevada. Prosecutors say Denny Phillips ordered the killing of Barrientos and that the women were killed to eliminate witnesses. Phillips and Hogshooter have pleaded not guilty. David Tyner, who is also accused of being involved in the slayings, pleaded guilty in the case and has testified that he killed Barrientos, Barrera and Ermey because Denny Phillips threatened his family. Cochran testified that before he entered a home and saw several bodies, he heard muffled gunshots from inside. Cochran, who was given a 25-year prison sentence, also testified that he knew that the killings were going to take place, but that he “didn’t verbally agree to kill anybody.” “I went there under the assumption that somebody else was going to murder someone. I didn’t agree to the murders but I agreed to go down there,” Cochran testified. Cochran said that he saw three bodies in the home once he entered, and that Hogshooter told him to shoot a woman who prosecutors identified as Brooke Phillips. Cochran said he fired a couple of shots, purposely missing. Defense attorneys argue that there are inconsistencies in Cochran’s version of events. But prosecutors argue that significant details of what happened have stayed consistent with other testimony.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/24/2016 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation honored Korean War veterans Jack Merle Gardner, George Edward Dewayne Johnston, Ralph George Grass and Eva D. Rider Tallon with the Medal of Patriotism at the June 13 Tribal Council meeting. Cpl. Gardner, 74, was born April 16, 1942, in Claremore and joined the Marine Corps in 1959. Gardner attended basic training in San Diego and was sent to Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan, a Marines supply depot. He received weapons maintenance training while in Okinawa and maintained the base’s weapons. He also played football on its team. A colonel saw him playing and had Gardner transferred to Quantico, Virginia. He was part of the traveling football team that played football at Air Force, Army and Navy bases across the country. When the Cuban Missile Crisis began, football was suspended and all Marines were on standby. Gardner received an honorable discharge in 1963. He received medals and ribbons for his service, including the Good Conduct Medal. “Serving the country helped me buy my home and get through college with the GI Bill,” Gardner said. “I appreciate the Cherokee Nation for this recognition award. I also thank the tribe for their quick response when a tumor was found on the lower part of my spine. I thank God they were on the ball.” Staff Sgt. Johnston, 85, was born May 4, 1931, in Kenwood and entered the U.S. Air Force in 1952. Johnston attended basic training in San Antonio and radio school in Biloxi, Mississippi. While waiting for his top-secret clearance, Johnston travelled to Burma, London, Germany and Amsterdam before being stationed in Scotland as a radio operator. He was responsible for copying all Russian aircraft Morse Code transmissions. Johnston spent 20 months overseas copying Russian transmissions. He returned to the United States and received an honorable discharge in 1956. Johnston received ribbons and medals for his service, including the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. Petty Officer 3rd Class Grass, 79, was born March 7, 1937, in Locust Grove and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1955. Grass attended basic training in San Diego and was stationed on the USS McCoy Reynolds, where he trained servicemen from New Zealand. After the USS McCoy, Reynolds was turned over to the New Zealand Navy, deployed on the USS Picking to the South China Sea, where he served as a boiler operator helper. During his service, Grass made one trip around the world. He received an honorable discharge in 1959 and earned ribbons and medals for his service. Cpl. Rider Tallon, 86, was born June 13, 1930, in Bunch and joined the U.S. Army in 1951. She attended basic training at Fort Lee in Virginia and surgical technician school at Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio. Rider Tallon was then stationed at Fort Lawton in Washington, where she served as a company clerk. While at Fort Lawton, she received “Soldier of the Week” honors and attended the University of Seattle. She was then deployed to the 8168th Army Hospital Unit in Yokohama, Japan, where she served as the editor of the battalion newspaper and attended Red Cross activities for wounded soldiers from the Korean War. Rider Tallon received an honorable discharge in 1954 and earned ribbons and medals for her service. To nominate a veteran who is a CN citizen, call 918-772-4166.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/24/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation donated $75,000 to organizations that ensure school children get snacks and school supplies when they return to school this fall. In northeastern Oklahoma at least 20 organizations participate in backpack programs that send backpacks home with students who are in need of everything from school supplies to nutritious weekend snacks. The tribe donated the funds from its donations and charitable contributions budget. Tribal Councilors individually delivered the checks totaling $75,200 to the churches, schools and organizations in their areas. “We have a responsibility to our children, especially those in need, to ensure they have access to basic and essential items when they are away from structured activities like school and church,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Networking with these partners, organizations that have similar values and a mission to help kids, enables us all to do more, and that is critical if we hope to raise healthy and happy children in northeast Oklahoma. If we can address any insecurity a child has at home, whether it’s food or clothing or supplies, then we are helping build a better tomorrow.” The programs serve 3,643 students, with half of those students being CN citizens. Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said the tribe is able to help more families when developing healthy partnerships with organizations inside the 14-county jurisdiction. “By partnering with churches, schools and organizations inside the communities, we are able to make the greatest impact with our tribal dollars,” Byrd said. “These organizations know the needs of our young people in their respective communities, and I am proud that the Cherokee Nation can contribute to meeting those needs.” Organizations receiving funds are in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, Muskogee, Nowata, Rogers, Sequoyah and Washington counties. New Life Church in Stilwell received $15,000 to help. At the beginning of every school year, the church hosts a cookout and backpack giveaway night for parents and students in Adair County. The church also partners with four rural Adair County schools and uses the donation to provide nutritious weekend snacks to students every week during the school year. “We are so thankful to be able to partner with the Cherokee Nation and help students and parents in our area with necessary school supplies and nutritious snacks on the weekend,” said New Life Church Pastor Max Ford. “The tribe’s generosity is a godsend for our community, and we are more than happy to help pass that blessing on to those in need.” <strong>Receiving Donations</strong> Organization, County, Award New Life Church, Adair, $15,040 Hulbert Public Schools, Cherokee, $9,388.32 Tahlequah Public Schools, Cherokee, $3,689.94 Craig County Salvation Army, Craig, $1,121.49 Okay Public Schools, Delaware, $1,961.74 Choteau-Mazie Public Schools, Mayes, $781.04 First United Methodist Church Locust Grove, Mayes, $710.95 Boulevard Christian Church, Muskogee, $2,350 Chandler Road Church of Christ, Muskogee, $555.45 Eastern Heights Baptist Church, Muskogee, $1,516.82 First United Methodist Church Muskogee, Muskogee, $1,602.27 Grace Ministries Inc., Muskogee, $341.82 Warner Public Schools, Muskogee, $3,845.45 Boys & Girls Club of Nowata, Nowata, $6,118.14 Oologah United Methodist Church, Rogers, $791.58 Rogers County Salvation Army, Rogers, $14,248.42 Hillside Pentecostal Church, Sequoyah, $1,388.64 Lee’s Chapel Assembly of God, Sequoyah, $2,307.27 The BOD Church, Sequoyah, $1,132.27 Agape Mission of Bartlesville Inc., Washington, $6,308.39
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
06/23/2016 06:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – As the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists prepared to finish the last few miles of their nearly 1,000-mile journey from Georgia to Oklahoma, some reflected on what it meant and what they learned. The youngest rider, Jack Cooper, 15, of the Birdtown Community in Cherokee, North Carolina, followed in his father’s and sister’s footsteps to ride the three-week trek through six states to Tahlequah. “I was always told it’s a challenge both mentally and physically, that there’s no words to describe it after you’ve done it. You have to go on the journey,” he said. He said he agrees with the assessment that people have to make the journey themselves to truly appreciate what Cherokee people endured during the forced removals in 1838-39. “It is amazing. Growing so much as a family with people you’ve never met, experiencing the heat and experiencing suffering and joy all at the same time, it’s amazing,” he said. Cooper said that during the ride he learned lifelong leadership skills and to cooperate with others. “I’ve grown so much as a person,” he said. Before the ride, Kelsey Girty, 22, of Warner, said she knew the journey would be physically challenging and that she would be tested as she rode through the territory her ancestors walked along the Trail of Tears’ Northern Route. But as she prepared to ride into Tahlequah to see family and friends, she said she found it tough to find words to describe her experiences. “Everyone says you have to see it, you have do it, to actually feel it,” she said. She said she has a deeper connection to the people who took the ride with her and to herself. She learned things she never knew about her culture and heritage by taking part in the trip, she said. Girty added that if someone wanting to make the journey were to ask her what is special about it she would tell them the unity and bonding among the cyclists is the most special. “Everyone just comes together. We’re all so different. None of our personalities are the same,” she said. “Everyone comes together as a family.” Marisa Cabe, of the Wolfetown Community in Cherokee, North Carolina, said she knew the ride was not only going to be physically difficult but “emotionally and spiritually” difficult, too. She said the ride’s physical and emotional demands didn’t match what she imagined. “The heat, the constant pedaling, it’s all been much more physically challenging than I ever could have imagined, “Cabe said. The 50-year-old had to “trailer up” or put her bicycle in the trailer and ride in the van on June 22, the day before the cyclists made it to Tahlequah because she overheated. “I didn’t want to. I cried a little bit when they told me I had to. I wanted to do what they (Cherokee ancestors) were able to do, and then I stopped to think not everybody walked. People had to be helped. I had to be helped… and that’s hard for me to accept, but I’m thankful that I had the people here to help me,” she said. An unexpected but pleasant surprise for Cabe was how close the cyclists became. She said the group likes to say they are not Cherokee Nation or Eastern Band but are “one tribe.” “We’re Cherokee. That’s all there is to it,” she said. “Whether the federal government recognizes it or not, we as people realize that we’re one tribe, one nation.” Cabe thanked the support staff that helped the cyclists along the way and her fellow cyclists who helped her finish the ride. “It’s just been an amazing journey, and I’m thankful that I did it,” she said
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/23/2016 02:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix recently followed the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists for part of their trip from New Echota, Georgia, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. From June 15 to June 23 we will feature video profiles of two cyclists daily. Today is Tosh Welch of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The ride is held annually to commemorate the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their Southeastern homelands during the winter of 1838-39. The bicycle ride originated more than 30 years ago as a leadership program that offered Cherokee students a glimpse of the hardships their ancestors faced while making the same trek on foot. Follow the cyclists’ journey at <a href="http://www.facebook.com/removal.ride" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/removal.ride</a> or with the Twitter hashtag #RememberTheRemoval.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
06/23/2016 12:00 PM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A group hoping to put a casino legalization measure on the Arkansas ballot this fall says it has signed an agreement with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to operate one of the casinos. Arkansas Wins in 2016 announced Thursday the agreement with the Cherokee Nation group to operate a casino proposed in Washington County in northwest Arkansas. The tribe's gaming and hospitality company owns and operates nine casino properties in Oklahoma. Arkansas Wins is trying to gather the nearly 85,000 signatures from registered voters needed to place its proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Arkansas Wins says the project would not involve efforts to seek tribal land trust status. The ballot measure also proposes casinos in Boone and Miller counties. The group has until July 8 to submit its petitions.