Editorial Board releases statement on proposed FOIA changes
5/20/2014 9:06:08 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board released the following statement on May 15, 2014, concerning the changes to the Freedom Of Information Act under review by the Tribal Council.

“The Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board, which is entrusted with monitoring the performance of the Cherokee Phoenix, the Phoenix’s delivery platforms that serve tribal members, and the provision of timely and correct information to the nation’s citizens, believes the current language in the Freedom of Information Act should be left intact. The FOIA not only embodies and forms the foundation for the nation’s commitment to unbridled communication with its citizens, but also symbolizes the openness of tribal government that tribal members have come to expect and to which they are entitled.

“The FOIA has worked well since 2001 and has helped ensure transparency of tribal operations for our individual citizens and the Phoenix, thereby enhancing government accountability. It represents the progressive nature of the nation and certainly is an enactment of which the nation’s government and tribal members should be proud.

“The Cherokee Nation was the first tribe in Indian Country to have a FOIA law on the books. The statute, along with the Independent Press Act of 2000, was responsible for the tribe receiving the prestigious Elias Boudinot award from the Native American Journalists Association for its contributions to a free press in Indian Country.

“In all states with FOIA laws there are some costs associated with providing access to governmental records, but this is usually considered an insignificant price to pay for ensuring that the public and the press have access to governmental activities. Sometimes requests can be overly broad, and it would be logical for tribal entities to work with those requesting information to narrow the scope so costs would be lessened.

“We consider the changes under consideration by the Tribal Council to the FOIA to be the first regrettable step toward limiting governmental transparency in the Cherokee Nation. Specifically, we would recommend removal of the single-point control over what gets released when the nation receives a FOIA request, to whom and when, so as to remove the potential for political influences infecting the processes, and thus further enhance transparency. Each agency of the nation that is the subject of a FOIA request should be the entity determining compliance with the request and the appropriateness of such a request. To do otherwise, irrespective of who may be the single-point of decision making, does not bode well for independent, non-political decisions.

“Given that the tribe’s primary profit centers are the Cherokee Nation Businesses, it would make sense that those entities, in particular, are not exempt from scrutiny, as has been proposed. There may be, indeed, some reason for keeping proprietary matters under wraps, but that is usually the only limitation for such entities under most FOIA laws. Concerns with the non-release of truly proprietary information should not and cannot form the basis for exempting arms of the nation from the FOIA and, thereby, restricting access to records and information of importance to the nation as a whole.

“Further, extending the time period for responding to requests to 60 days from the current 15 appears to be a mechanism to further dilute the law and make it more difficult for tribal members and the press to obtain relevant information to ensure tribal government is acting in the interest of its citizens.

“In short, the FOIA should remain in its present form and undiluted if the nation, as a government, is going to live up to the goals espoused in the FOIA and in order for the nation’s citizenry to acquire the information and maintain the transparency that gave rise to enactment of the FOIA initially. Darkness and closed-door decisions are, thankfully, for our nation a thing of the past, and they should remain so.”
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