Election Commission chairman resigns amid controversy

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
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.
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.

News

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
02/26/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a response to a citizen’s complaint, Attorney General Todd Hembree states that Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board Vice Chairwoman Kendra McGeady did not violate the tribe’s Independent Press Act by attending a recent campaign event and was within her right to attend. In a Jan. 15 letter, Cherokee Nation citizen Cheryl Brown requested Hembree investigate the matter, stating that McGeady was present at Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden’s Jan. 6 campaign kick-off event in violation of the IPA. Legislative Act 16-09 states “board members shall not participate in any political campaign or be involved in any tribal political activity, except to exercise his or her right as a citizen to express his or her individual opinion and cast his or her right to vote.” Hembree states that under the standard provided by Cherokee law there is no evidence that McGeady acted inappropriately. He also highlights the part of the act that states “except to exercise his or her right as a citizen to express his or her individual opinion and case his or her right to vote.” “Ms. McGeady herself is not a candidate, a campaign consultant for any candidate and she does not a position in any candidate’s campaign,” the response states. “She is not collecting signatures for an initiative petition, nor soliciting campaign contributions for any candidate. Her mere presence at an event does not make her a participant in a political campaign.” He further states that a diligent citizen may attend the campaign events of many candidates and her decision to investigate the relative merits of the candidates is not a violation of tribal law. McGeady, who said her attendance at the public event was lawful, agreed with the attorney general’s decision. “I think his findings are extremely appropriate,” she said. Brown said she was glad the Attorney General’s Office looked in the issue but wasn’t shocked with Hembree’s response. “One simply has to review the opinions issued by Mr. Hembree over the past year, more specifically when dealing with the free press act, to understand the outcome of this issue,” she said. “I respectfully disagree with Mr. Hembree but appreciate the process that is in place which will allow a Cherokee Nation private citizen the opportunity to voice their concerns and request that action be taken.” In his response, Hembree also states that it is not the Attorney General Office’s responsibility to remove a Cherokee Phoenix board member, but that of the principal chief or majority of the Tribal Council. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/2/8973_nws_150219_McGeadyUpdate1.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> Attorney General Todd Hembree’s letter response to Cheryl Brown. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/2/8973_nws_150219_McGeadyUpdate2.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> Cheryl Brown's letter to CN Attorney General's Office.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
02/26/2015 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Election Commission found its new Election Services Office administrator when it promoted former clerk Keeli Duncan during its Feb. 19 special meeting. After returning from executive session, Election Commissioner Shawna Calico motioned to promote Duncan to the administrator position. Duncan has worked as a clerk for seven months at the office and was promoted because of the recent resignation of Madison Cornett in early February. The administrator position, according to a 2009 Cherokee Nation Human Resources job description, requires a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university in business administration or related field. The applicant can also have six years related experience or equivalent combination of education and experience. The description also requires an experience requirement of “two years directly related experience in a supervisory capacity and or working at an election precinct.” The Cherokee Phoenix requested to see the job description used for the recent administrator job posting but had not received it from HR as of publication. Duncan, a CN citizen, said she would have a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in health care in May. The administrator position is one dictated by CN Election Code. “The administrator of the Election Commission shall be a Cherokee tribal citizen who is independently hired by the Election Commission using objective standards developed by the Election Commission,” the law states. “The administrator shall be under the direct supervision of the Election Commission.” Before the EC promoted Duncan, Election Commissioner Carolyn Allen said she could not support the move. “I think Keeli has done a fine job here in this office as clerk, and I think she has been a great asset in that position. I have nothing personal against Keeli, and I have talked with her personally about this.” Allen said. “But I think there are situations that I’ve discussed with this commission in executive session, and I think it’s not a wise decision on behalf of this commission for me to vote in support of that.” Calico moved to promote Duncan from clerk 2 to administrator at a salary of $42,000. The motion carried 3-1 with Allen voting against. Calico also motioned to promote Brooke Tillison from a clerk 1 to a clerk 3 at a salary of $12 per hour. Tillison had served as a clerk 1 for seven months. The motion carried unanimously. The commission also hired Elizabeth Catron and Alexi Poteet for the clerk 2 and clerk 1 positions, respectively. Catron passed unanimously and Poteet passed 3-1 with Allen voting against.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
02/26/2015 08:00 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY – A report by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows Oklahoma’s 5,418 earthquakes tripled the number of quakes in California in 2014 and remains well ahead in 2015. Before 2009, Oklahoma was barely on the earthquake map, but in 2014 Oklahoma recorded 567 earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or higher on the Richter Scale. In comparison, U.S. Geological Survey data reflect that Oklahoma experienced an average of fewer than two magnitude 3.0 earthquakes per year from 1978 through 2008. The CIR’s report blames the earthquake uptick in Oklahoma on wastewater disposal wells used in fracking. Scientists also point to fracking-related activities as the reason for the earthquakes. At least 19 peer-reviewed published reports have concluded that many earthquakes occurring in Oklahoma are man-made, triggered by billions of gallons of saltwater and wastewater injected into disposal wells associated with horizontal drilling and enhanced recovery-drilling methods. The increase in the frequency and intensity of earthquakes in the state was cited as the rationale behind legislation that would require insurance carriers in Oklahoma to offer earthquake insurance coverage. Insurers would be required to offer earthquake insurance coverage to their customers under House Bill 1571, a measure proposed by state Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater. [BLOCKQUOTE]If passed, it would require all residential property insurance policies issued new or renewed on or after Nov. 1, 2015, to offer coverage “for loss caused by the peril of earthquake.” The coverage would be optional, but carriers would be compelled to notify their customers of its availability. Oklahomans, particularly in the northern and central sectors of the state, have been rattled by tremors since the resumption of oil and gas development during the past four years. Cherokee Nation citizen Jennifer Barger Johnson, who lives in Oklahoma City, said her home “has felt some pretty strong tremors.” “In fact last night (Jan. 29) around 6:07 p.m. there was one that only registered 2.9 (on the Richter Scale) about 3.1 miles from us. It shook the whole house rather violently but only lasted maybe 2 seconds,” she said. “The worst by far was the one that happened right after the OU-OSU game in 2011. That one rattled us incredibly and lasted a good 10 seconds. It was 5.6 (magnitude) and centered about 50 miles from us in Stillwater (Payne County).” Johnson said after that she and her husband Eric applied for and obtained earthquake insurance. “There was a 30- or 60-day waiting period from the last quake for it to go into effect, but it’s been in force for some time now,” she said. She said she pays less than $10 a month and the policy only covers her home if it is a total loss due to an earthquake. Minor damage to a home, which she hasn’t experienced, is not covered by insurance policies in Oklahoma. The Payne County tremors have caused a lot of cosmetic damage and some structural damage. “People are very concerned,” Angela Spotts of Stillwater said. “Our houses weren’t built to withstand seismic activity of this intensity and duration.” After two earthquakes occurred in Payne County in October, Spotts said wood trim around the ceiling of her house “pulled away” from the wall, and at least one crack in her house widened. HB 1571 targets insurance policies that cover residential structures of up to four dwelling units, condominiums, manufactured or mobile homes, “or a tenant’s policy insuring personal contents of a residential unit.” Coverage would be optional, not compulsory, and a customer could terminate an earthquake insurance policy or coverage “at any time,” the legislation stipulates.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/25/2015 04:00 PM
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – The rolling hills of northeastern Arizona where cornfields lined a watering hole and sheep grazed in the distance were home to Susie Robinson and her extended family. When she moved farther east into a new four-bedroom home, it wasn’t by choice but the result of a bitter land dispute between the Navajo and Hopi tribes that dates back centuries. The federal government’s attempt to have these tribes share land failed miserably, leading to one of the largest single relocation efforts in U.S. history. Thousands of Navajos have been transplanted into new homes off Hopi land, while dozens of Hopis have been moved off Navajo land. Federal officials are trying to figure out how best to wrap up the work of the relocation program that has exceeded its original $41 million price tag by more than $500 million and dragged on decades longer than planned. The effort threatens to get even costlier with many people still awaiting new housing. “I want to move this forward,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert of California, who recently visited the reservations with other congressional delegates to hear from tribal leaders on the matter. “The relocation program was never intended to be carried on in perpetuity.” The Office of Navajo-Hopi Indian Relocation was established by Congress in the years after the neighboring tribes were assigned reservations. It underlines a history of animosity between the Navajo and Hopi that has included threats of violence over property and clashes over cultural, business and political views. Land is the most contentious issue. The Navajo and Hopi tribes have occupied the same territory for centuries, though Navajos tended to be more nomadic sheepherders and Hopis mostly resided on three mesas towering above the surrounding desert. In 1882, President Chester Arthur designated 2.4 million acres in Arizona for the Hopi Tribe and other Indians. Hopis outnumbered Navajos six to one on the land, but the Navajo population grew over time. The federal government later gave the tribes the OK to sue over the land, and the Hopis responded in 1958 by seeking sole control of it. Four years later, a federal court deemed 1.8 million acres a joint-use area. But the tribes were not amenable to sharing the land and, ultimately, Congress divided it and ordered tribal members to leave each other’s reservations. The Navajo Nation - the country’s largest reservation at 27,000 square miles - now completely surrounds the 2,500-square-mile Hopi reservation. When the federal government proposed relocation, some Navajos armed themselves and threatened bloodshed if anyone tried to move them. About a handful of Navajos who refused to leave Hopi land still live there under Hopi jurisdiction. Tensions run high at times, particularly over livestock grazing. The Hopi Tribe seized sheep from Navajos last year to preserve the vegetation. The two tribes also have clashed in other areas. Until recently, they refused to be in the same congressional district. The Hopi Tribe also has been fighting a proposal for the Navajo Nation to build an aerial tram into the Grand Canyon. “The relocation basically was a very traumatic experience for Navajo families who were directly affected,” Navajo lawmaker Walter Phelps said. “But it was also a very traumatic experience politically that has a certain amount of impact on the relationship between the tribes and the federal government.” Still, the relocation program mushroomed, with the number of people eligible for housing benefits almost four times higher than expected. In all, more than 7,200 heads of household have sought relocation benefits, representing 16,386 people. The relocation office has approved more than half of those applications. The program was slated to end in 1986, but Navajo opposition to relocation early on and a shortage of suitable land to build houses helped prolong it. Today, about 120 Navajos still await homes, 300 administrative appeals are pending, and eligibility is being determined on 65 applications, according to a recent report from the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General. The program’s cost could go up another $35 million to $82 million once those applications and appeals are settled. Robinson moved into her new, stucco house on a 1-acre plot in 1985. It was much larger than the two-room house she shared with her mother growing up. But the windows, foundation and stucco started cracking within a year, and she doesn’t have the sheep, cornfields, watering holes or ceremonial hogan she had as a child. For Robinson, the relocation house isn’t home. “I still miss my old place,” said the 60-year-old teacher who works with special education students at a school on the Hopi reservation. “If I were to get that piece of land back, I would be there in a heartbeat.” About a dozen Hopi families relocated to a community called Spider Mound on the Hopi reservation. They have decried the lack of paved roads, running water, electricity and fire suppression that the Hopi chairman’s office said they were promised. The delegation from the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee that Calvert chairs said it saw an obvious need to address areas of disrepair but wasn’t sure that would be covered by the relocation program. The relocation effort could be completed faster with legislative changes that could include a cash payout instead of a new home, or an increase in annual appropriations, the Office of Inspector General report said. Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district includes the Navajo and Hopi reservations, said she would work with the subcommittee to ensure the federal government meets its obligation to the tribes. “They heard from a lot of concerned people who are relocates who spoke very eloquently about their conditions of living and how desperate the situation is,” she said.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/25/2015 02:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Authorities say a Tulsa man has died after an Osage Nation police officer used a stun gun on him during an altercation with several officers outside a casino. The Tulsa World reported Monday that 41-year-old Terry Price was at the Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino on Friday night despite being banned. The Osage County undersheriff says a deputy arrived after the Osage Nation requested assistance. The deputy chased after Price when he took off in his vehicle, but canceled the pursuit. Authorities say Price returned to the casino and then ran away, with law enforcement officials chasing him on foot. A tribal officer used a stun gun on Price after he began to fight several officers. Price was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
BY STAFF REPORTS
02/25/2015 12:00 PM
WASHINGTON – The Center for Native American Youth recently received a $75,000 grant from the Aetna Foundation to gather youth perspectives on improving health outcomes and access to care in Indian Country. The funding will support CNAY’s ongoing outreach and advocacy efforts with the goal of lifting up community voices and ideas from youth to identify innovative healthcare solutions for the 2.1 million American Indian and Alaska Native youth across the country. “We are excited about our new partnership with the Aetna Foundation,” said Erin Bailey, CNAY executive director. “Aetna’s expertise and leadership will be an important contribution to our efforts in addressing suicide prevention and other health challenges faced by our youngest first Americans.” With this funding, CNAY will reach out to tribal and urban Indian communities and directly engage youth in discussions on health issues impacting them and their peers throughout Indian Country. CNAY’s team will produce a report with actionable information about youth-identified resources and technology for improving health outcomes. CNAY hopes this will be a first step, ultimately working to incorporate youth priorities in national policy and advocacy efforts. Over the last four years, CNAY has facilitated 101 roundtables with Native youth throughout Indian Country on a variety of issues and priorities. Those conversations are summarized in CNAY’s Voices of Native Youth reports, which can be found at <a href="http://cnay.org/CNAY_Publications.html" target="_blank">http://cnay.org/CNAY_Publications.html</a>.