Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard discusses a friendly amendment regarding changes to the Cherokee Nation’s Governmental Records Act during the Tribal Council’s June 16 meeting in Tahlequah, Okla. Buzzard requested the number of days for a GRA request response be lessened to 10 days rather than 20 days as stated in the legislation. JAMI MUPRHY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Tribal Council amends FOIA, GRA

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
06/18/2014 10:23 AM
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After several turbulent months of protest from citizens and some Cherokee Nation legislators, Tribal Councilors amended the Freedom of Information and Governmental Records acts during their June 16 meeting.

Amendments included increased time limits for responses under both laws. For the FOIA, the time limit goes from 15 days to 20 days. The FOIA amendment also included an additional 10-day extension, but only after the requesting party is notified in writing. The GRA time limit was increased from six days to 10 days, following a friendly amendment from Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard.

“And the amendment that I’d like to offer is to take away some of the days for the GRA act. We’re presently at 20. What I would propose to do is add four days to the existing act. Make it, I believe, 10 days,” he said. “It would be consistent with what we’re going to be doing with the FOIA, we added four (days). I would ask that we add four days to the present act which would make it 10 day turn around on documentation.”

The FOIA bill also creates an information officer position within the Attorney General’s Office to serve as a liaison for CN citizens seeking public records. The officer is to be independent of political influence and could only be terminated for cause and will be responsible for facilitating, gathering, tracking and responding to FOI requests, as well as providing monthly reports to the Tribal Council.

Both laws increase protection for CN citizens regarding personal information. Amendments included protecting a citizen’s Social Security number, date of birth, tribal citizenship number, email and other electronic identifiers specifically exempted under the FOIA.

“With technological advances, cases of identity theft have increased exponentially, and there are no indications of the trend changing course,” Tribal Councilor Tina Glory-Jordan said. “Along with other enhancements to this essential piece of legislation, this body wanted to ensure our citizens’ sensitive information on requested documents will remain private. Cherokee citizens can rest assured this body has taken every step needed to protect their identity and assets through this law.”

Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts expressed concern regarding “privileged or confidential” items that would be exempt.

The act states that privileged and confidential information is “exempt from disclosure under the Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information and Rights of Privacy Act, as amended, or is confidential under Cherokee Nation law, that record shall, nevertheless, be produced or otherwise made available to the requesting Council member…”

“So that still denies a council person the ability to have that electronically. So for instance, myself, that lives an hour to hour and a half away, I would still have to drive to the AG’s office to review the information it would not be given to me,” Cowan Watts said.

Glory Jordan said they had made no changes in that area and asked Attorney General Todd Hembree to respond.

“This law makes no changes to the current language that is in our Governmental Records Act. The question that you asked is precisely subject matter to a Supreme Court appeal to which Ms. (Julia) Coates is a plaintiff. We have our interpretation. Ms. Coates has her interpretation. There are going to be five members of the justice that’s going to decide that issue,” Hembree said.

Cowan Watts asked Hembree if the language would affect current lawsuits, to which he replied no.

The FOIA also clarifies that proprietary bid documents will be exempt from public disclosure. The law states that a contract is not exempt from disclosure once executed, but bid or other financial documents of the vendors who bid on a project will be exempt.

The FOIA bill passed 10-6, with Tribal Councilors Cowan Watts, Lee Keener, Coates, Don Garvin, Dick Lay and Jack Baker voting no. Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk did not attend the meeting.

The GRA bill passed 14-2, with Cowan Watts and Keener opposing.

Coates requested six friendly amendments to the FOIA bill, but they were voted down. They included:

• Any person denied a document request pursuant to the act for either copies or inspection, and any person denied attendance of a “work group or subcommittee meeting of the Tribal Council may appeal that decision to the Administrative Appeals Board or the District Court within 10 days of the denial of the request or deadline for providing the request if no response occurs,” and

• Any person alleging a violation of Section 107 (Meetings of public bodies shall be open) may seek relieve from the Administrative Appeals Board within 10 days of the alleged violation.

Glory Jordan said her biggest problem with the motions regarding the appeals board is that it is not set up to hear those types of cases.

“That means that we got to go change that law,” she said. “And I don’t see how we vote on doing this tonight without changing that law to broaden their ability to hear this type of case because they were set up to hear basically wrongful termination-type cases.”

Councilors also confirmed CN citizens Robin McClain Smith to the Cherokee Nation Community Association Cooperation and Jennifer Goins to the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission.

The Concurrent Enrollment Scholarship Act was also amended to allow students to enroll in more college hours and receive more funding.

“The amended legislation now allows eligible high school students to receive scholarship money for up to nine hours of college course work, rather than just six,” Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick said. “The more hours our students enroll in shows their dedication to academics and their futures, and saves families money.”
About the Author
Reporter

Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007.

She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. 

Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. 

She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. 

“My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.
jami-murphy@cherokee.org • 918-453-5560
Reporter Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007. She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. “My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jamimurphy2014.

Council

BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
01/13/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – During its Jan. 11 meeting, the Tribal Council, via Legislative Act 17-15, increased the fiscal year 2016 operating budget by $1,773,125 making the total operating budget authority $654.7 million. The modification consisted of adding $1.8 million in grant and carryover funding, as well as a decrease of approximately $75,000 from several tribal funds. Although there was no discussion during the meeting, Tribal Councilor Dick Lay abstained during the act’s voting. All other legislators voted to approve. The act passed 16-0-1. In an email, Lay stated he abstained because of inefficiencies in the Cherokee Nation’s Rehabilitation Housing group and the fact the tribe’s administration is making changes to it. “They may move CN Rehab employees to the CN Housing Authority. The CN administration placed in the budget mod (modification) to move the funding from CN Rehab to the CN Housing Authority,” Lay said. “These items were in CN Rehab budgets, and now have been sent to the CN Housing authority. “The CN Rehab Housing is a CN government entity, under the authority of the CN government. These 79 CN Rehab housing jobs had full vesting and employment rights in the CN government,” he added. “The CN Housing Authority is not a CN government department. It is a State of Oklahoma agency. I’m being told its employees are considered at-will employees. The CN government essentially funds the state agency – the CN Housing Authority. Because it has not been explained, and I’m still not sure how the CN Rehab group will be improved, and more importantly, because I’m concerned for the 79 CN government Rehab Housing employees and their families, I voted abstain instead of yes.” Councilors also approved the donation of surplus office equipment to the Foyil Community Building. Also, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in his State of the Nation address that CN officials met with Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro to discuss a new program that will benefit Native American veterans who are homeless. “We were one of 26 tribes nationwide to be selected. It gives us an opportunity to get 20 veterans that are homeless into safe, sanitary, decent housing with our partnership with the VA (Veterans Affairs),” Baker said. “If you know them, help us locate them.” He also said the Attorney General’s Office and the tribe’s One Fire program has secured a $400,000 grant to “increase awareness and help prosecute more cases involving sexual assault against women.” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden also honored three veterans during the meeting, giving them CN Medal of Patriotism awards. The veterans were Chester Benton Havenstrite, who served in the Army during the Cold War; Selbert Lee Taylor, who served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War; and Samuel Jordan, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
12/15/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council on Dec. 14 approved a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Eastern Oklahoma Region for wildland and fire management. “Basically the (wildland and fire) resolution allows us to continue to receive funding from the BIA and we work with them in protecting our tribal lands,” Willard Mounce, CN Tribal Employment Rights Office administration officer, said. Mounce said as of Dec. 14 the tribe’s Wildland and Fire Management program did not have a firefighter over it, but that the position was expected to open. He said to be eligible for the position one has to pass an endurance test as and meet specific BIA requirements. Until the position is filled, he said the BIA would provide a firefighter during the increased fire season. The agreement is approved annually, Mounce said, and funds $65,000 to the tribe. Tribal Councilors also approved a bill allowing the CN to become a Native American Fish and Wildlife Society member. The NAFWS has been in existence since 1983. It assists tribes with establishing fish and wildlife programs, supporting funding for tribal fish and wildlife programs and educating and training Native fish and wildlife biologists, managers, technicians and conservation officers. However, to benefit from the group’s services, the CN must first be a member. “Be it resolved by the Cherokee Nation, that this Council hereby wishes to become a member of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society and to participate in the services provided by the organization and its staff; and be it further resolved; that this Resolution of Support be submitted to the NAFWS; and be it further resolved; that the Cherokee Nation supports the efforts of the NAFWS to secure funding to maintain the organization and the services that will be provided directly to tribal fish and wildlife programs,” the legislation states. Both resolutions passed unanimously. The Tribal Council also unanimously passed Janie Dibble’s nomination to the Comprehensive Care Agency or PACE board. Also, legislators approved the re-appointments Carrie Philpott and Farrell Prater to the Registration Committee, Amon Baker to the Sequoyah High School board of education and Nathan Barnard to the Appeals Board. Councilors also unanimously approved CN citizen Chris Carter to the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors. He resigned from the Cherokee Nation Tax Commission effective Dec. 14, upon confirmation to the CNB board. “I am very pleased with the opportunity to share insights from my many years as a businessman for the benefit of all the citizens of the Cherokee Nation,” Carter, a business owner from Vinita, said. During the State of the Nation, Principal Chief Bill John Baker recognized the Cherokee Renegades, a basketball team of Cherokee men who won the National Indian Association championship in 1981, and the new CN Tribal Youth Council. In other news, CNB CEO Shawn Slaton said fiscal year 2015 was a success bringing in $123 million in net income. He also reported that the Roland Casino hotel opened on Dec. 10 and that CNB employs more than 4,600 CN citizens and has more than 80 percent Native American in its employment. Also, Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation Director Gary Cooper reported that 6,600 families have received some kind of assistance this year from the HACN.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
11/17/2015 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council approved the newest member of the Cherokee Nation Administrative Appeals Board on Nov. 16 at the legislative body’s monthly meeting after moving forward the nomination from the Rules Committee meeting earlier in the day. Tribal Councilors, minus an absent Jack Baker, unanimously approved Junior Dewayne Littlejohn during the Rules Committee meeting and full Tribal Council. Littlejohn will begin serving Dec. 15 for a term of four years. “Junior Dewayne Littlejohn is duly qualified and should be appointed as a Member of the Administrative Appeals Board,” the legislation reads. The AAB is a board comprised of three members who hear employee grievances, including wrongful termination cases. The board’s other two members are James Cosby and Nathan Barnard. The Tribal Council also approved two budget modifications. The first modification passed the Executive and Finance Committee on Oct. 29 and increased the tribe’s budget by $4.2 million to more than $651 million. It included $3.97 million related to carryover of a Department of Labor grant. The second passed the committee on Nov. 16 and increased the tribe’s total operating budget by more than $1.1 million to more than $653 million. It contained $760,000 related to an increase in the Tribe’s Employment Rights Office program from TERO fees to be collected. Also during the meeting, Health Services Director Connie Davis recognized Craig Edgmon, a home health nurse for the tribe’s Redbird Smith Health Center, who successfully resuscitated an unresponsive patient during a home visit. “And because of his heroic efforts this patient survived that event,” she said. “He went on the next week to teach a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) class where the following week one of his students passed on that and paid it forward and successfully resuscitated yet another patient out in the field. That shows what your efforts have done.” In other news, Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said that the Outpost 1 convenient store on the Tribal Complex is expected to be open around Feb. 1. Once opened the fuel system would be shut down for about three months until new fueling stations can be added. Slaton also said the Roland Casino hotel is expected to open near Dec. 1 and that CNB’s television show “OsiyoTV” would expand to the Oklahoma City area playing at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings on channel CW 34. In addition, he said that CNB Native American employment rate is at 81.6 percent with 73.5 percent of that strictly CN citizens. Deputy Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden also recognized two CN citizens for their military service, Christopher Dale Mayfield for his service in Operation Desert Storm and Jerry Wane Daniels for his time in Vietnam.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Intern – @cp_bbennett
11/16/2015 12:00 PM
HULBERT, Okla. – Rex Jordan had spent the past 20 years serving the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation, but this year he is taking on a new assignment as Dist. 1 Tribal Councilor. “I was both excited and humbled when I learned the Cherokee citizens of District 1 placed their faith in me to represent them in their government,” Jordan said. “I have always called District 1 home. It is the place where I grew up, was educated, and raised my family. Over the years, I have seen this area thrive and grow, and I want to do my part in seeing that progress continue.” Dist. 1 covers the western part of Cherokee County and a portion of eastern Wagoner County. Jordan was sworn into office Aug. 14 at Sequoyah High School’s The Place Where They Play after defeating Ryan Sierra in the June 27 general election. Certified results named Jordan the winner by a vote count of 856-494. Since inauguration, Jordan said he has been “impressed” with the Cherokee Nation orientation process for new Tribal Councilors. “We had the opportunity to visit with every single department head, and are undergoing a comprehensive program in which we spend time visiting individual departments,” he said. “The time spent with staff is invaluable, as we have the opportunity to ask very specific questions. It certainly makes both committee and council meetings work better.” During his term, Jordan plans to assist those in his district by focusing on improving housing. “Housing is an area of top priority for me,” he said. “I believe providing new homes and rehabilitating existing housing to meet the needs of the Cherokee people is of utmost importance.” Jordan is already working toward that goal by joining the HACN board as an advisory member along with fellow Tribal Councilors Bryan Warner, Frankie Hargis, Janees Taylor and Curtis Snell. Advisory member positions are non-voting positions. Jordan is also focused on increasing investments in education for citizens, especially since his background includes bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture education from Oklahoma State University. “Education is also a key component of my platform,” he said. “I believe investing in tribal citizens by assisting them with their educational needs is the key to a secure future.” As only one of seven tribes in the United States to be awarded a Joint Venture Program project with the Indian Health Service, Jordan has also made it a priority to improve the health care for people of his district. “Health and the new joint venture is of great importance to the Cherokee citizens of District 1,” he said. “I want to provide all the assistance I can to seeing this completed and online within the next four years. The new health complex at (W.W.) Hastings (Hospital) will be of benefit to the Cherokee people for all our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This will be our future in health.” When completed, the project will add almost 470,000 square feet of space to the existing hospital, as well as provide state-of-the-art medical equipment to better meet the needs of patients. Jordan, a lifetime resident of Cherokee County, graduated from Hulbert High School and maintains a cattle operation on his family farm with wife and former Dist. 1 Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan. When not herding cattle, he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren and meeting with the people in his district. “I am a hands-on individual. I enjoy visiting with the people in my district, many of whom will tell you I have spent time with them in their homes or on their front porches, listening to their concerns,” he said. “It's my job to take those concerns and questions back to the council and department heads so that we can work to provide information and solutions to the Cherokee citizens that I work with every day.”
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
10/13/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council on Oct. 12 confirmed Sara Hill as the first cabinet level Secretary of Natural Resources. After full council confirmed her nomination, she was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Angela Jones during the meeting. Hill said she was grateful for the faith that both Principal Chief Bill John Baker and the Tribal Council have in her. “This is such an important step for the Cherokee Nation that you’re taking. It’s very easy to continue to do what’s always been done. It’s difficult to do something new and I appreciate you taking this step to do something new,” Hill said. The cabinet position will be responsible for ensuring that the tribe’s natural resources are properly preserved for the future of the Cherokee Nation and its citizens. “I am so proud to say we are finally making our natural and environmental resources a priority. Our natural habitats and environment must be a factor in every decision we make. We have a responsibility to leave this land, this water and this air pure and clean for future generations,” Baker said in his weekly column regarding his nomination. “This position was originally established by the 1999 Constitutional Convention. Unfortunately, it was never filled, but this key advisory role cannot go vacant any longer.” Baker added that with the Secretary of Natural Resources in place and with the leadership of the Tribal Council, laws can be created that will sustain tribal lands, water and air for generations to come. “The Cherokee people deserve that. Clean air, safe water and a fertile land will always be our foundation for long-term health as a tribe and a people,” he said. The resolution confirming her appointment was passed unanimously. Hill previously served as the Deputy Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation, with expertise on environmental issues, water rights and natural resource protection, according to Baker’s column. Also passed by council was a resolution confirming the nomination of Tommye Sue Bradshaw Wright as a board member of Cherokee Nation Businesses. Her nomination was one of Baker’s and was passed during the Sept. 24 Rules Committee meeting with no discussion by a vote of 13-2 with one abstention. She was originally on the CNB beginning in 2011, but resigned for personal reasons in 2014. During the full council meeting where she was confirmed, Wright said she appreciates the opportunity to serve. “I will do a good job for the Cherokee people,” she added. Wright’s nomination passed by a vote of 13-3 with Councilors Harley Buzzard, Buel Anglen and Jack Baker voting against. Councilor Don Garvin abstained. Tribal Council also passed a resolution authorizing the tribe to become a member of the National Congress of American Indians as well as appoint the tribal delegates and alternates. Tribal Council also amended the agenda to bring three items from the Community Services Committee meeting that happened earlier that day. The three resolutions were voted on together: a resolution authorizing the appropriation of $267,000 of housing rehabilitation funding for FY 2015 for grant matching, a resolution certifying compliance with 24 CFR Chapter IX, and a resolution adopting standards for Section 8 housing rehabilitation. All passed unanimously. Brothers Oran L. Roberts and John Thomas Roberts Jr., who served in Vietnam as well as other service areas, were both recognized by Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden and Baker for their service in the army and navy, respectively. Bill Horton, former Chairman of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, was also recognized for his service in the army where he served in Vietnam.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Interim Executive Editor – @cp_wchavez
10/06/2015 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – With family support, Wanda Hatfield took on the challenge of winning the At-Large Tribal Council seat. Joining a field of 9 candidates, she said she used her background of growing up in the Cherry Tree in Adair County to held her understand the needs of Cherokee Nation citizens. “Basically we all have the same needs wherever we are, but I think just growing up in this part of the country I have a really good understanding of our people and our culture. Just growing in it I think I have, not an advantage, but maybe just more knowledge of the needs of Cherokees,” she said. She also said her strong desire to serve Cherokee people, like her late father did in Adair County, set her apart from the other candidates. “I didn’t have any speeches. I spoke from my heart. I’m a good listener,” she said. “The rest of the candidates were well-qualified. I think any one of us could have served well.” Hatfield traveled the United States during the 2015 campaign visiting with At-Large citizens to learn their thoughts and concerns. She learned that many want “a closer connection to the Cherokee Nation,” and want to experience the culture. She also learned many At-Large citizens are from eastern Oklahoma, having moved away during the federal government’s relocation program in the 1950s, or are descendants of Cherokees who moved away during the state’s Dust Bowl days or during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Also, some moved to the West Coast to find jobs, she said. She said At-Large citizens do get tribal higher education scholarships, but she would like to see more funding put in that area and more scholarships go to them. She said those scholarships are needed because college tuition continues to rise and citizens need scholarships to attend vocational schools or receive career trainings. Another need for At-Large citizens is health care. She said they are not able to get the specialized or contract health care that citizens living in the tribe’s boundary are able to receive. Hatfield resides in Oklahoma City with her husband Roger. They have one daughter and three grandchildren. Her parents are the late Jack Claphan and Carolyn Doublehead Claphan of Stilwell. Her great-great grandfather was Rabbit Bunch, who served as CN assistant principal chief from 1880-87. [BLOCKQUOTE]She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Oklahoma and taught in the Shawnee and Midwest City-Del City school districts for 28 years. “I have been successful in education, and I spent a lot of time in the classroom in the education field, and I was at the point in my life where I wanted to do something new and challenging,” she said. “This is something that I’ve always wanted to do – some kind of service for the Cherokees.” So far, she said it has been challenging to absorb the information given to Tribal Councilors regarding the tribe’s budget and other information they are expected to know. “I want to know it now, but I’m trying to embrace it slowly. I feel like the more knowledgeable I am, the more helpful I can be,” she said. She said serving on the council and meeting new people have been rewarding and the love and support she has been shown has been “overwhelming.” “I just want to thank everybody for their support. I’m available for my citizens any time, and I think it’s going to be a definite challenge but a wonderful challenge. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been an incredible journey so far.”