Freedom Of Information Act was first in Indian Country

BY TESINA JACKSON
Former Reporter
06/12/2014 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation enacted its Freedom of Information and Rights of Privacy Act in 2001, becoming the first Federally recognized tribe to allow citizens access to public records of a public body. Governmental bodies in the United States, including some tribes, have similar laws governing the availability of information contained in public records.

“Native Americans have as much right as anybody else to get information from their government,” Kevin R. Kemper, former journalist and University of Arizona assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences, said. “When a tribe doesn’t have a freedom of information law, it’s extremely tough for journalists and the public.”

Kemper, who also serves as a Native American Journalists Association Legal Hotline intake liaison, said he believes strongly in freedom of information and tribal sovereignty.

“Each tribe needs to have the opportunity to have a freedom of information act, incorporate freedom of information as a way of helping the people,” he said.

According to the CN FOIA, a public record includes all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.

“The requirements under FOIA are that (a request) be in writing to the department with a specific request for the document you are requesting,” CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said. “The department will take it, the process is to have it reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office to see if it meets the requirements of FOIA, and we handle it according to process.”

However, Hembree said there are documents, such as meeting minutes of a public body, that don’t need a formal request.

Each department of the tribe’s executive and legislative branches, after receiving a records request, has 15 business days to fulfill the request. According to the act, if written notification of the response is neither mailed nor personally delivered to the person requesting the documents within the 15 days, the request must be considered denied and the requestor may appeal the denial.

After reviewing the CN FOIA, Joey Senat, Oklahoma State University School of Media & Strategic Communications associate professor, said if a record is obviously public information then the person handling it should know that.

“Anyone should be able to walk up and make a request right there,” Senat, who served on the Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee, said. “If the law was written so it was effective, it would allow anyone in the tribe to walk up to a public agency and make a request for a record that’s with that agency or with that official.

“If the record is right there and it can be made a copy, it should be provided on the spot, under the ways our law is written,” he added. “Having a 15-day delay wouldn’t be acceptable under (Oklahoma) state law.”

Hembree said he hasn’t received any complaints about the current process so he assumes it’s working fine. However, he said his staff has been overwhelmed by an increase of requests that come from a select group of people.

“The purpose of the act ¬– and it’s a great purpose – is to make sure that citizens know how their government is run, know how their money is made, know how their money is spent and the system has worked greatly up until October 2011, at which time there had been a dramatic increase in the amount of FIOA (requests),” he said. “That’s always been my number one goal, people will have that right and I, for one, will never stand in the way of that right.”

But Senat said because the CN FOIA gives tribal citizens the right to know what their government does the costs and number of requests shouldn’t matter.

“God forbid that the citizens know what their government is doing and that they want to find out,” he said. “It costs too much and there’s an increase? Well God forbid that the public actually put into effect the statute that says they have a right to know. That’s the purpose of these statutes and people should put them into effect and make requests. That’s why they’re there.”

Senat added that a list of all record requests should also be a public record and anyone should be able to ask for it.

“It’s a way to provide a paper trail so that the public can judge how well their government is responding to records requests,” he said. “Every time they have gotten a request, that’s a record.”

What records are public?

Public records are documents or pieces of information that are not considered exempt or confidential. Under the CN FOIA, certain categories are specifically made public information, however the use of the information for commercial solicitation is prohibited.

Public information includes the names; sex; race; title and dates of employment of all employees of public bodies; administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public; final opinions; documents identifying persons confined in any jail, detention center or prison; statements and interpretations of policy; statute and the Constitution; written planning policies and goals and final planning decisions; final CN audits and of its subsidiaries; information in or taken from any account; voucher or contract dealing with the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds by public bodies; the minutes and votes of all proceedings of all public bodies; and reports that disclose the nature, substance and location of any crime or alleged crime reported as having been committed.

“Tribal people expect transparency and accountability from their leaders, and there are a lot of great leaders throughout Indian Country,” Kemper said. “The best leaders tend to recognize transparency.”

The Nation’s FOIA states that any person has a right to inspect and/or copy public records.

“That’s one of the problems with how it is written now,” Senat said of the tribal law. “It should say ‘have the right to inspect and copy.’ It shouldn’t say ‘or.’ You should have the right to inspect a record and make your own copy if it means with a pencil and paper, to write down what you’re reading. Even with technology today, with a cell phone, the simplest thing is to take a photograph of a document.”

Some record copying may require a fee

According to the act, a public body – which is any CN board, commission, agency, authority, any public or governmental body or political subdivision of the Nation, including any organization or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds – may establish and collect fees that do not exceed the actual cost of searching for or making copies of records.

However, records must be furnished at the lowest possible cost and be provided in a form that is both convenient and practical for use by the person requesting copies of the records concerned. Fees may not be charged for examination and review to determine if the documents are subject to disclosure.

Open meetings and their rules

According to Robert’s Rules of Order, an executive session is a meeting or portion of a meeting that is convened in private. Only members of the governing body are entitled to attend but they may invite others to stay at the pleasure of that board, council, committee or commission. A motion is required to go into executive session and a majority must approve it. Those present must maintain the confidentiality of the discussion.

The regular meeting minutes should indicate when the board went into an executive session, what the primary reason was, any formal decisions that were made in executive session and when the board, council, committee or commission came out of executive session.

Investments or other financial matters may be in executive session if disclosure of the deliberations or decisions would jeopardize the ability to implement a decision or to achieve investment objectives.

A record of the board or of its fiduciary agents that discloses deliberations about or a tentative or final decision on, investments or other financial matters is exempt from disclosure as long as its disclosure would jeopardize the ability to implement an investment decision or program or to achieve investment objectives.

The panel may discuss, deliberate on and make decisions on a portion of the annual investment plan or other related financial or investment matters in executive session if disclosure would jeopardize the ability to implement that portion of the plan or achieve investment objectives.

A record of the panel that discloses discussions, deliberations or decisions on portions of the annual investment plan or other related financial or investment matters is not a public record to the extent and so long as its disclosure would jeopardize the ability to implement that portion of the plan or achieve investment objectives.

Matters exempt from disclosure

A public body may, but is not required to, exempt from disclosure information of a personal nature that would constitute unreasonable invasion of personal privacy, trade secrets, records of law enforcement under investigation and documents to proposed contractual arrangements and proposed sales or purchase of property.

Specific, individual salaries are also exempt from disclosure but annual budgets contain position listings without names.

Senat said omitting salaries from the public eye is “fodder for corruption.”

“You can go down to OSU and you can ask to see what I get paid as a state employee,” he said. “There’s no way to figure out who’s getting paid what? The public is the employer. The tribal citizens are the employer. They’re the ones paying the bill. They should be entitled to know who’s being paid what specifically. It should be open because that’s one way to fight corruption. That opens it up to favoritism, political patronage, basic corruption.”

Information that would violate attorney-client relationships, the identity of the maker of a gift to a public body if the maker requests to be anonymous and the identity of an individual who makes a complaint, which alleges a violation or potential violation of law or regulation also may be exempt from disclosure.

Memoranda, correspondence and working papers in the possession of individual members of the executive and legislative branches or their immediate staff are exempt. However, nothing may be construed as limiting or restricting public access to source documents or records, factual data or summaries of factual data, papers, minutes or reports.

Other memoranda, correspondence, documents and working papers relative to efforts to attract business or industry to invest within the CN may be exempt from disclosure. However, any record that is requested and is exempt and not disclosed or is disclosed and marked confidential should have a statement explaining the reasons for that determination.

“It does has a lot of common exemptions,” Senat said. “This is a strength under the law where it says that if they’re going to deny it they have to explain why something is exempt. These statutes can be very strong, but if they’re not enforced they’re worthless.”

Photographs, signatures, addresses, race, weight, height, Social Security number and digitized images from a driver’s license or personal identification cards are also not considered public records.

“Some leaders keep things secret and that could violate the right of the people,” Kemper said. “You see a lot of that throughout Indian Country and the tribe will have to sort that out.”

Kemper added that he believes there are some understandable exceptions such as sacred knowledge.

“Every tribe’s culture is different, that’s why it’s important to create freedom of information that’s a cultural match,” he said.

Penalties for not providing records

Any CN citizen may look to the District Court for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in FOIA cases as long as the application is made not later than one year following the date on which the alleged violation occurs or one year after a public vote in public session.

The court may order equitable relief as it considers appropriate and a violation must be considered to be an irreparable injury for which no adequate remedy at law exists.

If a person or entity seeking such relief prevails, they may be awarded reasonable attorney fees and other costs of litigation. If they prevail in part, the court may award them reasonable attorney fees or an appropriate portion.

According to the act, any person or group of persons who willfully and maliciously violates the provisions of the FOIA may be found guilty of a crime and upon conviction shall be fine not more than $100 or imprisoned for not more than 30 days for the first offense. For the second offense, the fine shall not be more than $200 or imprisoned for not more than 60 days and shall not be fine more than $300 or imprisoned for not more than 90 days.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
10/20/2017 04:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Technologies is hosting job fairs from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 28 at 10837 E. Marshall St. The tribally owned company anticipates hiring 100 bilingual call center specialists to respond to calls from Disaster Recovery Service Centers. Hired support specialists will answer questions and perform data entry for individuals and businesses affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. CNT is looking for experienced and entry-level bilingual agents. All applicants must be U.S. citizens, be at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma or GED and have the ability to pass a background and drug screening. Job fair attendees should bring their résumés and be prepared for an interview at the CN Nation Career Services office on Marshall Street. CNT is part of the Cherokee Nation Businesses family of companies and is headquartered in Tulsa, with a regional office in Fort Collins, Colorado, and client locations nationwide. CNT provides unmanned systems expertise, information technology services and technology solutions, geospatial information systems services, as well as management and support of programs, projects, professionals and technical staff. For more information or to apply online, visit <a href="https://cnbjobs.cnb-ss.com/#/jobs/11540" target="_blank">https://cnbjobs.cnb-ss.com/#/jobs/11540</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
10/19/2017 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in October announced the selection of Bryan Rice, a veteran federal administrator and Cherokee Nation citizen, as the new director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that coordinates government-to-government relations with 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States. “Bryan has a wealth of management expertise and experience that will well serve Indian Country as the BIA works to enhance the quality of life, promote economic opportunity, and carry out the federal responsibility to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives,” Zinke said. “I have full confidence that Bryan is the right person at this pivotal time as we work to renew the department’s focus on self-determination and self-governance, give power back to the tribes, and provide real meaning to the concept of tribal sovereignty.”?? Rice, who started his new position on Oct. 16 recently led the Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire, and has broad experience leading Forestry, Wildland Fire and Tribal programs across the Interior, BIA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Native Americans face significant regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to economic freedom and success,” Rice said. “I am honored to accept this position and look forward to implementing President Trump’s and Secretary Zinke’s regulatory reform initiative for Indian Country to liberate Native Americans from the bureaucracy that has held them back economically.” His federal government career has spanned nearly 20 years, beginning with service on the Helena Interagency Hotshot Crew for the U.S. Forest Service in Montana. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, working in both community forestry and rural development and supervised timber operations as a timber sale officer on the Yakama Reservation as well as a forester on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Rice also served in leadership capacities internationally in Tanzania, Mexico, Brazil and Australia for both Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. ?? Rice has served in two senior executive service natural resources management leadership positions, including as deputy director for the BIA Office of Trust Services from 2011-14, and as director of Forest Management in the U.S. Forest Service from 2014-16. ?? Rice spent his school years in the Midwest in Whitewater, Wisconsin, and Peoria, Illinois. ?He holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alaska – Southeast, focusing on rural development and transportation systems. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he looks forward to working with Rice. “The Cherokee Nation is certainly proud of our citizen, Bryan Rice, and his accomplished career stemming in natural resources and now in Washington, D.C., overseeing the agency that most directly works with all federally recognized Indian tribes,” Baker said. Rice’s position does not require Senate confirmation.
BY LINDSEY BARK
News Writer
10/18/2017 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee National Treasure Betty Frogg voiced concerns that she and other treasures have regarding the CNT program during an executive session of the Sept. 28 Culture Committee meeting. Frogg said she told the committee that several treasures feel they don’t have access to information regarding the program such as who gets nominated to its advisory board, feel as if they cannot attend monthly advisory board meetings and don’t have access to CNT policies and bylaws. Frogg also said some treasures feel as if they don’t have input on who is nominated and selected to the CNT advisory board. Advisory board members are Cherokee National Treasures Jane Osti, Vyrl Keeter, Durbin Feeling, Eddie Morrison and Vivian Cottrell. Frogg said she also told the Culture Committee about how the Cherokee Nation Businesses-ran program now allows contemporary artists to become treasures when before only traditional artists were considered. “The issues I wanted to bring before the committee was basically for somebody to listen to us (and) for the traditional arts to stay traditional,” Frogg said. Frogg said she told the committee the difference between a “traditional” artist and a “contemporary” artist. “Basically traditional means you use traditional materials to make your baskets, bows, arrows, (stickball) sticks. All of the treasures that are traditional do that. They gather their own materials. They process their own materials. Contemporary, you can go buy the stuff in Walmart or an art store (or) Hobby Lobby. That’s the difference to me in traditional and contemporary,” she said. Committee members voted to speak with Frogg in executive session because of a lack of public decorum in the public meeting. During the public portion of the meeting, Culture Committee Chairwoman Victoria Vazquez said that a committee member had requested that a CNT spokesperson be given the floor. Vazquez denied the request. “This is unnecessary, and I do not intend to conduct the meeting by opening it up to spokespeople. We can be productive and effective by doing our jobs representing our constituents and engaging and discussing with each other,” Vazquez said. Molly Jarvis, CNB vice president of marketing communications and cultural tourism, presented packets to the Culture Committee with information regarding the CNT program’s history and supporting documentation such as bylaws and policies. “The Living Treasures National Master Craftsman resolution was passed by the Council in 1988 and was amended in 2009. Cherokee Nation Businesses assumed financial and administrative management of the National Treasures program in October 2015,” Jarvis said. Jarvis added that CNB has managed the budget and administration of the CNT program while the five-person advisory board has reviewed and updated bylaws. “We have clearly communicated the updated standards of conducts and mentor program policy as well as many other documents and the budget,” Jarvis said. Tribal Councilor Dick Lay asked Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. about the term limits of the advisory board and if living treasures had input on who is placed on it. Hoskin said Principal Chief Bill John Baker nominates the advisory board members. “I know from experience working for Chief Baker that he’s always willing to get input and that he’s gotten input, and that input, not just this committee but other committees, has guided his decision on who to nominate,” he said. Hoskin added that treasures could suggest people they want added to the advisory board to him and Baker. As a result, Frogg was nominated to be on the advisory board to help select future treasures. The Rules Committee was expected to vote on her nomination on Oct. 26. Also, as a of result of the Culture Committee meeting, treasures will have access to the advisory board’s policies and bylaws and be able to attend future advisory board meetings.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
10/16/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Oct. 9, Native Americans, including many Cherokees, celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day in Tahlequah and on Northeastern State University’s campus. The following Cherokee Phoenix video highlights people and events of the day.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/15/2017 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A small Oklahoma town is irate that the state has decided to restore its Capitol with marble from a Chinese vendor over marble produced from the town's own quarry. Locals in Marble City, located near the Arkansas border, say the marble used for the project should come from Oklahoma, not another country. Over the next four years, workers will replace parts of the Capitol's lowest floor, eventually laying down about 25,000 square feet of marble. One of the bids was linked to Polycor, a manufacturing company that produces marble from a quarry in Marble City. The Oklahoman reports that construction officials said the bid using those materials came in over budget, and called the Chinese marble "superior" to the quality of the Polycor product in every measurement category.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/15/2017 12:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Three hung juries in the case of a white former Oklahoma police officer charged with fatally shooting his daughter's black boyfriend had one thing in common besides unwillingness to convict: Each had only one African-American juror. Race has been an undercurrent in ex-Tulsa officer Shannon Kepler's first-degree murder case, which is headed for a fourth trial. Criminal law experts and U.S. Supreme Court cases point to the importance of racial identity and policing when it comes to jury selection, which is set to start Monday. Kepler, a 24-year veteran of the force, was off duty in August 2014 when he fatally shot 19-year-old Jeremey Lake, who had just started dating Kepler's daughter. Kepler doesn't deny pulling the trigger but says he did so only because he thought Lake was armed. No weapon was found on or near Lake's body. Officers across the U.S. involved in fatal shootings of black residents have recently faced similar trials. In the past year alone — including in Tulsa — juries were unwilling to vote for a conviction or prosecutors were unwilling to charge officers in cases from Baltimore to St. Louis. In May, a jury acquitted now-former Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby in the killing of an unarmed black man, which roiled the city's black community. "I don't see how race cannot play a role," said Kris McDaniel-Miccio, a professor at Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver and a former Bronx-based prosecutor. "I don't think there's any way to get around it because of what has happened in this community." The racial makeup of the juries in Kepler's previous trials prompted criticism from at least one civil rights group. Tulsa activist Marq Lewis with We the People Oklahoma said Kepler's defense attorneys have been booting potential jurors based on skin color. "The last three juries somehow felt that Jeremey was a bad person because he was black," Lewis said. "They couldn't bring themselves to believe this off-duty officer would literally shoot someone in cold blood without thinking somehow the black guy is sinister and he's done something bad." Richard O'Carroll, Kepler's defense attorney, has denied race played a role in Lake's killing. O'Carroll did not return messages this past week seeking comment on the case. Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler declined to comment specifically on the racial makeup of the past juries, but acknowledged "frustration" with the results of the trials. "I know I had citizens who put in a lot of effort and worked very hard and I know from their perspective they are frustrated as well," Kunzweiler said. Another racial element was recently added to the case when Kepler argued that he couldn't be tried by state prosecutors because he's a member of an American Indian tribe. A judge determined the fourth trial could move forward in state court. Kepler says he's 1/128th Muscogee (Creek). Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that prosecutors violated the Constitution by excluding African-Americans from an all-white jury that convicted a black Georgia death row inmate of killing a white woman. The decision emphasized rules set by the court in 1986 to prevent racial discrimination in jury selection. Seating more jurors of color — especially in cases involving police who have fatally shot people — could be a factor in how a jury ultimately votes, said Bridgette Baldwin, professor of law at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. "The life experience is different," said Baldwin, who is black. "I may not be scared of a young male with a hoodie on because I've been socialized to be around these types of individuals. You see things differently, you hear things differently, you process things differently." McDaniel-Miccio, the Denver law professor, said the Kepler case illustrates what the U.S. is trying to address when it comes to race, police and the justice system. "How many generations do we have to have pass before we come to the honest realization that there is a distinct racial and ethnic asymmetry in this country?" she said. "We live in a world where we should believe that when something like this happens, they will be facing justice and they will be held accountable if they broke the law — no more, no less.”