Council alters its travel policy

02/11/2014 08:09 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Jan. 30 altered their travel policy prohibiting any councilors who declare their candidacies for the principal chief or deputy chief seats from using council travel funds or being reimbursed for any travel other than to committee and full council meetings.

The policy, sponsored by Tribal Councilors Tina Glory Jordan and Jodie Fishinghawk, passed 10-5 in the council’s Rules Committee meeting. Tribal Councilors Jack Baker, Julia Coates, Don Garvin, Lee Keener and Cara Cowan Watts voting against it. Tribal Councilors Harley Buzzard and Frankie Hargis were absent.

Because it is a policy change the item did not have to appear on the Tribal Council’s Feb. 10 agenda, and Glory Jordan was expected to sign the amendment, making it effective in February.

Under the new policy, once Tribal Councilors declare or announce their respective candidacies for the principal chief or deputy chief seats they will not be allowed to use council travel funds and shall not be reimbursed for any travel other than to regular or special committee and full council meetings.

“I believe firmly that council members should use travel money only for official business, not for politics,” Fishinghawk said. “A majority of councilors agreed. The policy is simple: a councilor can travel anywhere they want and even campaign for chief; they just cannot use tribal funds to do so. A couple of our colleagues appeared to be crossing the line, but that won’t be a problem anymore.”

Fishinghawk said the change was brought up because she believed that Cowan Watts and Keener have been abusing the travel policy by “politicking on the tribe’s dime.”

In a Jan. 10 Cherokee Phoenix article, Cowan Watts and Keener stated their intentions to campaign as running mates with Cowan Watts vying for the for principal chief seat and Keener for the deputy chief post in the tribe’s 2015 election.

Fishinghawk said she saw a Facebook posting by Cowan Watts announcing her intention to run for principal chief. She added that if any other councilor had announced their respective intentions to run for a higher office, the policy would also apply to them.

Those interested in running for CN governmental seats in the tribe’s next election can’t file until March 2015.

Keener said the policy change was a simple case of “tyranny of the majority.”

“They think they can do whatever they want to attempt to silence the minority and keep us from doing basic job functions required by the Cherokee Nation Constitution, law and policy,” Keener said.

He said the change was arbitrary and that it denied Cowan Watts and himself travel reimbursements for official business such as to the Joint Tribal Council with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians or the National Congress of American Indians.

“Other official travel required to do our jobs is also stopped,” he said.

Legislative Act 17-09 gives the legislative body the authority to set its own rules and procedures for travel expense reimbursement. The act states that council shall develop internal policies and procedures for reimbursement of mileage and travel expenses concerning any meetings of the Tribal Council, conducting official tribal business or attending other meetings in furtherance of their duties of office.

But Cowan Watts said with the new policy she can’t get reimbursed for traveling to the district she represents for community meetings.

“I live about 20 miles away from the nearest border of District 13 because the same group (of majority councilors) put me in a district where I do not live,” she said. “The majority has taken away reimbursement and funds for travel within my own district when I still have more than a year and a half to serve the Cherokees in portions of Tulsa and Rogers counties.”

At the Jan. 30 meeting, Cowan Watts made a motion to make a friendly amendment to the policy suggesting that it allow councilors who declare or announce their principal chief or deputy chief candidacies to be reimbursed when traveling to the Cherokee National Holiday, Joint Council, Presidential Inauguration events and NCAI meetings. The friendly amendment was denied.

“I understand tribal resources are not to be used for campaigning,” Cowan Watts said. “I do not understand the behavior of tyrants who abuse their power to silence the voice of the minority. By cutting Lee Keener and my day-to-day travel monies for council business, as well as other official travel such as Joint Council with the Eastern Band, the majority has deliberately penalized the minority for disagreeing with the chief and is stopping us from doing our job.”

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About the Author
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter.    

In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization. • 918-453-5000 ext. 6139
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter. In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.


11/17/2014 12:04 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler recently named Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis to the FCC-Native Nations Broadband Task Force. The 31-member task force is comprised of elected and appointed leaders from federally recognized Native tribes and officials from the FCC. A total of 20 tribes are represented on the task force. Established in 2011, the task force serves as an advisory board to the FCC by consulting on issues affecting Native people and promoting the development of broadband on tribal lands, including better access to high-speed Internet. “Much of the Cherokee Nation and Indian Country continue to have limited access to broadband,” Hargis, of Stilwell, said. “This task force has the critical mission of voicing the concerns of our Native people and helping close the gaps of broadband access, so that all Native people have equal opportunity to take full advantage of the benefits of broadband.” Task force members meet in person twice per year to discuss issues and voice concerns of the Native people, with one at the FCC in Washington, D.C., and the other abroad. Four teleconference meetings are held each year to supplement the semiannual in-person meetings. “We could not have a better representative than Councilor Hargis to voice the concerns of our underserved rural communities on this issue. Few understand the connection between broadband and rural economic development the way she does,” CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. Hargis will serve a three-year term on the task force. For more information on the task force, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
11/17/2014 09:59 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Following some debate, Tribal Councilors approved Lynn Burris as a justice of the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court at their Nov. 13 meeting. Tribal Councilor Julia Coates questioned Burris’s involvement with the tribe’s Employee Appeals Board and his brother Lyle’s serving on the EAB. “I believe he’s well qualified, but he has been serving on our Employee Appeals Board for several years at this point. We currently have some cases in front of the Supreme Court involving dismissals of employees, alleged illegal termination of employees that Mr. Burris has already ruled on as a member of the EAB that he will be potentially having a second opportunity to rule on as a justice of the Supreme Court,” she said. “In addition, he’s got a brother who continues to serve on the Employee Appeals Board, and it’s not inconceivable that there will be additional cases of this kind coming in front of the Supreme Court as there have been over these past several years. And I feel as though there are some things here that I’m very, very uncomfortable (with), again family relationships and conflicts that come forth.” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. reiterated what Burris discussed at a Rules Committee meeting earlier in the day, saying Burris confirmed that his brother Lyle would resign if Burris were to receive approval. Hoskin said he has no doubt Burris would follow rules in place to recuse a judge. Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts asked Hoskin if Burris was related to any elected officials, board members or constitutional appointees. Hoskin said Burris’s daughter, Amber George, sits on the Cherokee Nation Foundation board and his son-in-law, Buck George, sits on the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors. Coates asked if Burris would recuse himself from cases involving CNB, CNF or the EAB. “If we do have assurances that Mr. Burris will recuse himself from cases involving CNB, involving CNF and involving any that are coming up from the EAB, and if his brother is going to resign from the EAB, then I too will feel comfortable,” she said. Hoskin said he could not speak for Burris regarding possible cases but that Burris gave his assurance “that he’ll recuse himself when the ethics of being a judge require that.” “I’m not going to speak for Mr. Burris. I’m not going to speculate on cases. No judge would speculate on a case that might come before them,” Hoskin said. “You have my assurance that he will adhere to the standards of judicial conduct. You have my assurances that his brother has indicated that he will resign. That’s the extent that I can address that.” Tribal Councilor Speaker Tina Glory Jordan said Burris’ 39 years of practicing law would make him the most experienced justice on the court. “If confirmed tonight, he will become our most experienced judicial appointment today, so I will be supporting him,” she said. “He’s very well aware of the rules on when he needs to recuse and when he does not need to recuse. This is not a gentleman that’s going into it with a lack of experience.” Burris replaces Chief Justice Darrell Dowty. Burris is a former United Keetoowah Band Supreme Court justice, federal magistrate, associate district judge and assistant district attorney. His nomination passed unanimously with Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk absent. The Tribal Council also approved Maxie Thompson to the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board by a 13-3 vote with Tribal Councilors Cowan Watts, Coates and Lee Keener opposing. Cowan Watts said she would not vote for Thompson because he wasn’t qualified. “I have nothing against you. I simply believe that the law states, or the Independent Press Act, that you would require a journalism degree and work in administration of a journal or newspaper, and I just simply do not think that you’re a fit for the Editorial Board according to the law which is why I will be voting no this evening,” she said. Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright said the position that Thompson was being appointed for was not for a person with a background in journalism. “I think he’s highly qualified for this position,” she said. “This is a position that is for a lay person. This is a vacancy for a lay person, not a journalist. So we have a division of opinion here as to what vacancy he is filling. He is highly qualified as an ordinary person. Everybody that is on the Editorial Board does not have to be journalists. This position that we’re filling tonight is for a lay person.” Thompson is a former construction contractor who also served 16 years as a Cherokee County commissioner for Cherokee County. He is now retired. He replaces former board member Keith Austin, who was appointed in April 2013. His term will end on April 1, 2019, according to the resolution. Councilors also approved the transfer of trust land in Sequoyah County to CN citizen Charles Stilwell, with some legislators raising concerns. According to the resolution, the CN has “established the Malloy Hollow housing subdivision on a part of this acquired property in Adair County. Cherokee Nation desires to transfer a tract of Trust land adjoining the Malloy Hollow housing subdivision in fee status to Charles Stilwell, a Cherokee Nation citizen. The 1.23 acre tract lies along the northwestern boundary of Tract 8 in the Malloy Hollow subdivision.” “I’m not going to vote no on it, but I am going to abstain because I’m hoping that some of the smart guys down at the other end of the building can figure out how to trade this type of property, somehow someway,” Tribal Councilor Dick Lay said. “We’re doing it in other areas. Of course, it’s kind of time consuming. If we trade the property and bring it to say Tahlequah and give this property to this gentleman I think that would have been a better way to do it.” The resolution passed 12-0-4 with Tribal Councilors Lay, Cowan Watts, Keener and Don Garvin abstaining. Councilors also approved the CN Housing Rehabilitation Program to donate surplus real estate, including a replacement home, to Susan L. Brown in Sequoyah County. The resolution passed unanimously. Legislators also reappointed Michael Watkins, Buck Charles George, Harold “Sam” Ray Hart, Gary Cooper, Jerry Holderby and Deacon Turner to the CNB board of directors for three-year terms. However, Bob Berry’s reappointment to the board met resistance from Cowan Watts. “So Mr. Berry was involved, or part of, the purchase of the golf course and the farm land here in Tahlequah,” she said. “Even though he abstained from that vote on the board I still see it has a pretty significant conflict of interest, an $8.5 million purchase and there’s other things that I don’t favor in terms of conflict of interest. So that’s why I won’t be supporting Mr. Berry, even though I appreciate your service.” Fullbright responded by saying Berry clarified he wanted no part of that transaction. “First off, I want to clarify that in this transaction he made it very clear that he had no interest whatsoever in the raw property and he was a minority holder of the…Cherry Springs Golf Clubhouse,” Fullbright said. “So whether he really wanted to sell it or not sell it, since he was a minority in it, he really had no say so over it whatsoever. He is one of our very best board members.” The nomination passed 13-3 with Cowan Watts, Keener and Coates opposing. Comments also surfaced when it came to Brent Taylor’s reappointment to the CNB board. Cowan Watts said although she believes Taylor is diligent at his position she could not support his reappointment because he is married to Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor. “I don’t want to take away from that, but the reality is your wife sits on council, and although the attorney general has cleared that as not a conflict of interest I think it’s something that we can’t work around, so I can’t in good conscience with my individual vote on council support both her being on council and you being on the businesses board,” she said. His nomination passed 12-3-1 with Cowan Watts, Keener and Coates opposing. Janees Taylor abstained.
11/03/2014 03:06 PM
During the 6 p.m. Sept. 15, 2014 Tribal Council meeting, Councilors discussed: • A resolution authorizing the Cherokee Nation to become a member of the National Congress of American Indians and to appoint the tribal delegate and alternates. • An act amending LA-04-14 the Cherokee Nation election code to address notary public issues and the return of absentee ballots. • A resolution authorizing the approval to submit a grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy regarding energy efficiency projects on indian lands. ...and more. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> the Sept. 15, 2014 meeting minutes. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to view</a> the Sept. 15 Tribal Council meeting video.
10/28/2014 08:03 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation honored a World War II veteran posthumously, a Navy Vietnam veteran and an Army veteran with Cherokee Medals of Patriotism during the Oct. 13 Tribal Council meeting. The late Ben Haner, of Claremore; Ray Dean Grass, 68, of Locust Grove; and Robert W. Johnson, 53, of Wagoner, each received a medal and plaque. Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden acknowledged the veterans’ services to the country. The late Pvt. Haner was born in Yonkers on Aug. 16, 1918, to Tom Haner and Virginia Williams. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in December 1942 during World War II. After training, his squad was assigned to guard the eastern coast of the United States and then France and Germany. In a battle for control of a bridge over Lake Ammersee in Germany, Haner was wounded three times in the right leg, which he lost to gangrene while waiting for evacuation. After recovering in a hospital in San Francisco, he was honorably discharged in 1946. Haner received a number of honors, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Haner’s family is donating his Cherokee Medal of Patriotism to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, making it the first of its kind in their collection. “I’m very, very proud of my father and his service to this country,” Bennie Haner, who accepted the award in her father’s place, said. “He was very proud of being Cherokee, and I think this is an outstanding honor.” Staff Sgt. Ray Dean Grass was born on May 4, 1946, to Thomas W. Grass and Ella Standingwater. He attended Oaks Mission School before enlisting in the U.S. Navy on May 8, 1963. After basic training, he entered the Vietnam War doing supply runs aboard the USS Castor and refueling ships aboard the USS Guadalupe. He earned the Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Medal and more. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1967 as petty officer second class, and six months later he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He was trained as an aircraft maintenance specialist, assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and finally transferred to Guam and assigned to a C-97 aircraft. He was honorably discharged from the Air Force on Jan. 9, 1970. Spc. Robert W. Johnson was born Nov. 8, 1960, in Riverside, California. He enlisted in the Army on June 28, 1978. He trained at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, as a communications specialist. His training included operating switchboards, laying wires and repelling off mountainsides to maintain communication between companies. He also earned the title of rifle sharpshooter. He carried out the remainder of his service in Fort Carson, Colorado, where he adapted his training for the snow and trained in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare tactics. He was honorably discharged on April 20, 1984. Each month the CN recognizes Cherokee service men and women for their sacrifices and as a way to demonstrate the high regard in which the tribe holds all veterans. To nominate a veteran who is a CN citizen, call 918-453-5541 or 1-800-256-0671, ext. 5541.
10/14/2014 02:33 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During their Oct. 13 meeting, Tribal Councilors unanimously approved resolutions requesting the U.S. Interior Department to place into trust land associated with two of the tribe’s health facilities. Legislators approved land-into-trust applications for 5.6 acres that the Redbird Smith Health Clinic in Stilwell sits on and .98 acres that is part of the W.W. Hastings Hospital expansion in Tahlequah. Earlier this year, CN and Cherokee Nation Businesses officials said they would invest $104.3 million for new and existing health facilities. More than $53 million is expected to build a new 150,000-square foot Hastings Hospital. That project is expected to start next spring and conclude in the fall of 2015. Redbird Smith Health Center’s main building recently underwent a remodel the past two years because of mold found inside. The building was closed in 2012, and its patient services were moved to different parts of the health center after the mold was discovered. “We’ve been wanting to put it into trust for a long time,” Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright said. “All of our properties need to be in trust that way if there’s ever anything like a special project, such as a joint venture, and we have the opportunity for something that comes up, the land needs to be in trust.” Councilors also approved an application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for fiscal year 2015 funding for the tribe’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The funding amount in the application is more than $1.3 million, which would provide residential health assistance payments for approximately 2,000 low-income tribal households. It will also provide crisis aid for about 800 eligible households, and if funding permits, cooling assistance payments to about 1,800 households. LIHEAP services contain Residential Heating Assistance, which provides assistance to eligible households for their primary sources of heating, including wood, wood pellets, natural gas, propane, electric, kerosene and coal. To continue the tribe’s Food Distribution Program, councilors also approved an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more than $3.3 million with a cash match of more than $840,000 and an in-kind amount of more than $70,000. The resolution states that the funding would provide distribution of food to approximately 11,000 participants a month, representing 4,900 tribal households. “This is accomplished through the current operations of 7 Food Distribution Centers located in the communities of Tahlequah, Jay, Salina, Sallisaw, Stilwell, Collinsville, and Nowata,” the resolution states. The centers operate in a grocery store environment allowing people to shop in comfortable and familiar settings. The Tribal Council also approved the nominations of Luke Barteaux and Kendra McGeady as Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board members. Barteaux, who was nominated by Principal Chief Bill John Baker and will serve a six-year term, passed via a 14-1-1 vote. Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts voted against the nomination, while Tribal Councilor Julia Coates abstained. Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez was absent. “I’m familiar with Luke. He’s a great individual and this has nothing to do with him as a person,” Cowan Watts said. “It’s a responsibility of the chief’s office to fit the letter of the law and unfortunately, I don’t believe, even though he’s a highly qualified individual, he’s not qualified with the way I understand our Free Press Act is written. So at this time, I cannot support the nomination even though I fully believe in Luke as a person.” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd asked Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. if the criteria was checked to see if Barteaux was qualified to be nominated as a board member. “Yes, we have,” Hoskin said. “I just have to say that I respectfully disagree with the council lady from Rogers County. In fact, Mr. Barteaux, by any objective standards, meets the letter of the law that this council passed. I’m very confident that he meets the qualifications.” Barteaux thanked Baker for the nomination and the council for the confirmation. “I look forward to working with the Cherokee Phoenix,” he said. “It’s a great asset to the Cherokee people, and I look forward to helping them move forward and doing even more great things.” McGeady, who was nominated by the Tribal Council and will serve a six-year term, passed by a 13-2-1 vote. Tribal Councilors Cowan Watts and Lee Keener voted no, while Coates abstained. “I just wanted to reiterate my comments in the committee and this is nothing against Miss McGeady or her qualifications,” Coates said. “I just am saddened that the person who was serving on this board, Jason Terrell, who is from Memphis, Tennessee, and one of the few At-Large people that is able to serve on any of our boards and commissions, and who had done a very able job in the years, that he had been on this board, that the decision to not reappoint him. That’s my sadness about it.” McGeady said she appreciated the confidence of the tribe’s leadership in her nomination and confirmation and looked forward to serving the Phoenix and tribal citizens. Councilors also modified the tribe’s budget by moving $429,313 out of General Funds into the fund being used for the new Ochelata health clinic, or Cooweescoowee Health Center, in Washington County. The budget item includes new positions for a physician and a registered nurse as well as operating expenditures. The 28,000-square-foot health center in Ochelata, just south of Bartlesville, will replace the existing 5,000-square-foot CN Bartlesville Health Center, which operates in a small storefront building.
09/30/2014 11:52 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation honored a World War II veteran, a Vietnam veteran and a veteran on government contract during Operation Iraqi Freedom with Cherokee Medals of Patriotism during the Sept. 15 Tribal Council meeting. William Wood, 94, of Vinita; Gary Craig Daugherty, 68, of Stilwell; and Peggy Zuber, 59, of Tulsa, received medals and plaques from Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, acknowledging their service to the country. Wood was born in 1920 to John Edward and Helen Wood. He graduated from Nowata High School and joined the U.S. Air Force in 1942. He attended training in Ontario and Taft, California, learning to fly single engine planes. In 1943, Wood transitioned to the B-25 bomber. He was sent to India in 1944 where his aircraft was shot in the left wing and the tail. In all, Wood flew 63 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two air medals and four campaign ribbons for his service. “I can’t explain what it means to be recognized by my tribe,” Wood said. “It’s a great day for me to be recognized by Cherokees, and it’s just something I can’t express.” Daugherty was born in 1946 to Grover Eugene and Ernestine Craig Daugherty. He attended Wauhillau School for first through eighth grades and graduated from Stilwell High School. In 1969, Daugherty enlisted in the U.S. Army and received basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He was stationed in Germany and served overseas during the Vietnam War. Daugherty received an honorable discharge in 1971 and was awarded the Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal for his service. Zuber was born in 1955 to Ray and Nancy Zuber. She followed her father’s footsteps by joining the U.S. Navy in 1976. Zuber completed basic training in Orlando, Florida, and served four years. After her service, she enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves. During Zuber’s 17 years, she served in various overseas operations in Belgium and Germany. After retiring in 2001, she worked as a U.S. Department of Defense contractor on the ground in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Zuber now works for Cherokee Nation Businesses as a contract analyst for government contracts. Each month the tribe honors Cherokee service men and women for their sacrifices and as a way to demonstrate the high regard in which the tribe holds all veterans. Native Americans, including Cherokees, are thought to have more citizens serving per capita than any other ethnic group, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. To nominate a veteran who is a Cherokee Nation citizen, call 918-453-5541 or 1-800-256-0671, ext. 5541.