Freedom Of Information Act was first in Indian Country

BY TESINA JACKSON
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 ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/28/2017 04:00 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — One of North America's most prominent powwows is set to begin in New Mexico in the wake of pipeline protests in North Dakota that became a historic display of Native American solidarity. The Gathering of Nations is one of the world's largest gatherings of indigenous people. Last year's event attracted about 3,000 dancers from hundreds of tribes in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It routinely draws at least 80,000 visitors. The event that opens Thursday in Albuquerque is intended to be nonpolitical, but Larry Yazzie, its official announcer, said people will be reminded why they are coming together, and that the "water protectors" — those who joined the pipeline protests — will be acknowledged. "There will be plenty of people there who have been to North Dakota," Yazzie said. "The spirit will be there." The protests were staged after the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes said the pipeline threatened their sovereignty, religious rights and water supply. The Crow tribe — a traditional foe of the Sioux — joined the demonstrations. In August, authorities arrested about 750 demonstrators, including actress Shailene Woodley and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. In February, authorities dispersed the last remaining holdouts in advance of spring flooding season. The Gathering of Nations will be held at Expo New Mexico after the organization parted ways in a public spat with its longtime host — the University of New Mexico and its basketball arena. The new venue also hosts the New Mexico State Fair and will give powwow vendors more space while providing visitors with a more intimate feeling amid a smaller powwow arena. "It's going to have its growing pains. It's a change," Yazzie said. "But I think a lot of people are excited to see the new place, and we will have a lot of dancers ready to compete." The Gathering of Nations began in 1983 in a gym at present-day St. Pius X High School and moved to Expo New Mexico soon after. The event then relocated to the University of New Mexico. A character in the 1998 movie "Smoke Signals" said the Gathering of Nations was such a powerful pan-Indian event that it would have kept Columbus away had it been around in 1492. Dan Mourning, general manager of Expo New Mexico, said officials have been working for a year to prepare for the revamped Gathering of Nations. Mourning expects attendees to embrace a new indoor Indian trading market and live entertainment at "Stage 49." For the first time, a medical marijuana developer and dispensary will help sponsor the event. Representatives of Ultra Health will pass out pamphlets and brochures about medical marijuana and ways attendees can apply to the program.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/27/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Six Cherokee Nation citizens, five of whom are CN citizens, recently formed an AAPC chapter in Tahlequah. The AAPC is the nation’s largest training and credentialing association for the business side of medicine. Those forming the chapter are CN citizens Melinda Mefford, Janice Horton, Jaycie Robbins-Bogart, Barbara Weavel and Deanna Chandler, as well as CN employee Gina Fletcher. Fletcher serves as the chapter president while Mefford is vice president. Horton is secretary, and Robbins-Boggart is treasurer. Weavel serves as the education officer, while Chandler covers new member development. “The new chapter was requested because local residents who are members of AAPC had to drive to Tulsa, Fayetteville (Arkansas) or Fort Smith (Arkansas) for monthly meetings,” Fletcher said. “These meetings provide not only networking with other coders and billers, but also provide continuing education units at no cost. These CEUs are necessary to maintain AAPC certification. We’re so excited to be able to offer these opportunities to our local membership.” According to a press release from the new chapter, local chapters provide an opportunity for health care professionals to share common interests, questions, information and concerns. Local chapters also provide AAPC with feedback on programs, trainings and current trends facing the health care community, it states. “AAPC local chapters are crucial for our industry; they’re at the grass roots where true networking and education take place,” AAPC CEO Jason VandenAdkker said. “Our members receive assistance and encouragement from those who have ‘done it’ before them. We’re very proud of our local chapters officers who volunteer to promote the profession and give back to others because someone gave to them.” AAPC has more than 500 chapters across the county. In addition, the chapters provide an education forum, offer networking opportunities and establish an environment where less-experienced members may interact, learn and be mentored by those with more experience. For more information about AAPC certification and local chapters, visit <a href="http://www.aapc.com" target="_blank">www.aapc.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/27/2017 12:15 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa recently joined the ranks of the best hospitality establishments in the country when the American Automobile Association honored it with its Four Diamond Rating. Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s largest entertainment property is now recognized as one of North America’s select accommodations. Fewer than 6 percent of the 28,000 AAA-approved and diamond-rated establishments in the nation receive the prestigious distinction. “This honor affirms our commitment to remain a premier entertainment destination,” Martin Madewell, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa senior director of hospitality services, said. “We are proud to see the dedicated efforts of our staff be nationally recognized and ranked alongside the most elite establishments in the U.S.” According to AAA, a Four Diamond property is one that is “refined, stylish with upscale physical attributes, extensive amenities and high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail.” AAA, the world’s largest publisher of travel information and one of the world’s largest leisure travel agencies, rates more properties than any other rating entity. Lodging establishments and restaurants receive a rating of one to five diamonds. AAA uses full-time, professionally trained evaluators to inspect each property annually. Diamond ratings appear in online travel guides, on the club’s website and via the AAA Mobile app as well as the printed Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri & Oklahoma TourBook® guide. For more information about AAA and Diamond Ratings, visit <a href="https://www.ok.aaa.com" target="_blank">https://www.ok.aaa.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/26/2017 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Restoring Identities after Sexual Exploitation, RISE, will have its second annual “Rise to Freedom Gala” on June 2 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The event begins at 6 p.m. and will host guest speakers Kylla Lanier, “Truckers Against Trafficking” deputy director, and sex traffic survivor Dr. Amanda Reed. Tickets for the event are $100 and can be purchased at <a href="https://squareup.com/store/rise-corp/" target="_blank">https://squareup.com/store/rise-corp/</a>. RISE was created after Cherokee Nation citizen Keri Spencer’s daughter asked her if they could help those who have been sex trafficked so they created a church program to educate children and parents on what to look for regarding sex trafficking. From that, Spencer spearheaded RISE. “RISE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. I actually am the founder…and serve as the executive director,” she said. “RISE exists to open a long-term residential facility for girls in Oklahoma that are ages 12 to 18 who have been sex trafficked or commercially sexually exploited.” For more information about RISE or to donate, visit <a href="http://www.riseshelter.org" target="_blank">www.riseshelter.org</a>. For more information about the event, call 918-822-3539 or email <a href="mailto: kerispencer.rise@gmail.com">kerispencer.rise@gmail.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/25/2017 03:00 PM
LONGMONT, Colo. – First Nations Development Institute on April 20 published a report that clears up a longstanding “urban legend” that has had a negative impact on Native communities. The report “Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America” challenges the commonly held belief that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in cities and urban areas. The report looks closely at U.S. Census data and uses a definition of “rural” areas developed by the Housing Assistance Council that is calculated with a formula that takes into account population and housing density. Using this definition, First Nations’ researchers found that 54 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people live in rural and small-town areas on or near reservations, contrary to common belief. “An outdated measure of ‘urban’ areas has been used by the Census Bureau for a long time,” First Nations President and CEO Michael E. Roberts sad. “Their definition of ‘urban’ includes small towns of less than 4,000 people. We felt the need to clear up some misconceptions and, in doing so, hopefully improve the distribution of resources to these rural and small-town areas. This is part of our longstanding work of elevating the Native voice and working to change the narrative about American Indian and Alaska Native people. We don’t want rural communities to be left out.”?? First Nations Associate Director of Development Eileen Egan said the institute kept hearing from different foundations that they were using the statistic that 72 percent of Native Americans live in urban areas, which is often reported by researchers. “That didn’t sound right to us. We felt a responsibility to dig deeper since it impacts the distribution of resources. We know that most of our grantees and many of our partners reside and work in remote, small-town areas that we, or anyone, would never define as ‘urban,’” she said. Raymond Foxworth, First Nations vice president of Grantmaking, Development and Communications, said First Nations’ mission has always been to work with rural American Indian and Alaska Native communities, which are often left out of mainstream funders’ program areas. “The erroneous 72 percent statistic was being widely used to direct money away from these rural areas, where the populations often struggle with higher poverty rates and many other economic and social disparities,” Foxworth said. “We felt it was important to understand where this number was coming from and how accurate it was. We feel it is much more accurate to say that 54 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or a majority, live in rural and small-town areas.” ?? In addition, the report found that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 68 percent, live on or near their home reservations. “We understand the challenges associated with using Census data to understand rural Native America, but we believe that only with carefully analyzed data can we have an accurate understanding of rural Native America, and make rural Native America visible again,” Sarah Dewees, First Nations senior director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs, said. “We hope this report will be useful to funders and nonprofit staff who are designing programs to effectively serve Native American people.”?? The full report can be downloaded at <a href="http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits" target="_blank">http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits</a>.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
04/25/2017 08:15 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – According to an economic impact study, the Cherokee Nation’s financial influence on Oklahoma exceeded $2.03 billon in 2016, growing from $1.5 billion in 2014. Dr. Russell Evans, an Economic Impact Group principal and Oklahoma City University assistant professor of economics, conducted the review. He released his findings during an April 21 forum at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. “What we find is that the Cherokee Nation operations here in northeast Oklahoma in 2016 had an over $2 billon impact on northeastern Oklahoma. Supporting nearly 18,000 jobs, just under $800 million dollars in income here in northeast Oklahoma,” he said. “It’s a tremendous source…and perhaps even more valuable given the general state of the state’s economy last year.” The study shows the tribe employs more than 11,000 direct and contract employees across the United States, with a majority being in Oklahoma. “$500 million is being paid out in northeastern Oklahoma to workers of Cherokee Nation Businesses and Cherokee Nation government offices. They’re taking back to their communities and spending in their local communities,” Evans said. “The Cherokee Nation directly produces or directly buys from local vendors almost $1.5 billon worth of goods. These are the revenues that are generated by this operation, the Cherokee Nation as well as purchases being made by the businesses and government operations of local vendors. So nearly $1.5 billon in direct economic activity in this area of Oklahoma we can trace back to the Cherokee Nation.” Evans said the “significance” of the tribe’s economic impact might affect economic development patterns “well into the future.” “I want to kind of keep in the back of your mind as you think about the true significance of the economic impact of the Cherokee Nation operations, it’s not just what the Cherokee Nation is doing today from who they employee and what they buy, but it’s also what I suspect we’ll see is that it’s also going to affect patterns of economic development well into the future,” he said. During the forum, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said it’s “amazing” to see the impact the tribe is generating in the state. He added that approximately 40 years ago, when the tribe re-organized as a government, the CN was producing an impact of $0 compared to the approximately $2 billon it produced in 2016. “Five short years ago we rolled out an economic impact on Oklahoma of the Cherokee Nation of almost $1 billon. How amazing that in 40 short years we went from $0 economic impact to a billon dollars. Today you have an economic impact statement…that says the Cherokee Nation had an economic impact last year of over $2 billon,” he said. According to a CN press release, studies of tribe’s economic impact have been conducted every two years since 2010. Reports from 2010, 2012 and 2014 showed the tribe’s economic impact as $1 billion, $1.3 billion and $1.55 billion, respectively. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeenationimpact.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeenationimpact.com</a>. <strong>Total compact for 14-county jurisdiction, according to <a href="http://www.cherokeenationimpact.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeenationimpact.com</a>.</strong> County Output Jobs Income Adair $67.9 million 902 $37.1 million Cherokee $275.9 million 5,910 $220.9 million Craig $14.3 million 273 $10.5 million Delaware $186 million 1,371 $56 million Mayes $163 million 781 $24.8 million McIntosh $1.8 million 13 $696,672 Muskogee $113 million 952 $40.3 million Nowata $26.4 million 263 $10.2 million Ottawa $3.2 million 53 $989,474 Rogers $386.3 million 2,923 $135 million Sequoyah $152.1 million 1,200 $49.8 million Tulsa $592.8 million 2,626 $181.1 million Wagoner $6.6 million 48 $1.2 million Washington $48.8 million 475 $16.8 million