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
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 TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
08/03/2015 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on July 30 confirmed nominations to the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board and the Cherokee Nation Comprehensive Care Agency board. Cherokee Nation citizen Lauren Jones joined the Editorial Board with a vote of 15-1 with Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts voting against her. Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk absent. According to Jones’ resume, she is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma public relations senior supervisor. Her duties include writing, editing, proofing and coordinating design and production for targeted communication pieces in the health care industry. The Tribal Council also unanimously approved Luka E. Madison’s nomination as a governing board member of the CN Comprehensive Care Agency, or PACE. “I’m excited to serve the Cherokee Nation on the board for the all inclusive care of the elderly, and I look forward to contributing to leadership through governance,” Madison said. According to Madison’s resume, she is the nursing supervisor at Northeastern Health System in Tahlequah, and in 2012 she received a master’s degree in nursing. Madison also serves on the Northeastern Oklahoma Health Centers board of directors. According to the CN Comprehensive Care Agency Organic Act, the board was created in 2004 within the tribe’s executive branch to establish a government agency to access resources unavailable to existing health programs and to take advantage of future opportunities to better serve the health needs of both tribal citizens and others in the community. Tribal Councilors also amended the tribe’s comprehensive operating budget for fiscal year 2015 by increasing it by $1.3 million for a total of $646.8 million. According to the act, the tribe received $312,689 in grants and made a modification request of $1,072,399. The modification request includes an increase in the General Fund of $682,566, an increase in the Motor Fuel Tax budget of $300,000 and an increase in the Department of Interior-Self Governance budget of $89,833. After amending the agenda, legislators also amended the tribe’s comprehensive capital budget by increasing it by $3.7 million in the Capital Projects budget for a total of $128.9 million. According to the budget, the increased amount will go towards the Tribal Complex construction. Also, after amending the agenda, Tribal Councilors amended the comprehensive operating budget again by increasing it by $17.1 million for a total of $663.9 million. According to the act, the tribe received $7.6 million in grants and made a modification request of $9.5 million. The modification request includes a decrease in the General Fund of $280,772, an increase in the Indirect Cost Pool budget of $478,277, an increase in the Enterprise budget of $300,000, an increase in the DOI-Self Governance budget of $245,264, an increase in the DOI-General budget of $284,926, an increase in the Indian Health Services-Self Governance Health budget of $8.2 million and an increase in the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act budget of $305,476.
BY STAFF REPORTS
07/31/2015 12:00 PM
<strong>During the 6 p.m. May 11, 2015 Tribal Council meeting, Councilors discussed:</strong> • A RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE LOCATION OF THE 2015 ELECTION POLLING PLACES Councilor Fullbright moved to approve. Councilor Hargis seconded the motion. The motion carried with no opposition. • A RESOLUTION SUPPORTING THE PROPOSED CHANGES MADE BY THE BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS TO STRENGTHEN THE INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT OF 1978 Councilor Thornton raised question regarding the polling places and a location missing from the list in Sallisaw. Speaker Glory Jordan requested to revisit this item at the end of this meeting and allow time for the Election Commissioner to check on the location in question. Councilor Hargis moved to approve. Councilor Thornton seconded the motion. The motion carried with no opposition. ...plus more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9486_May11TribalCouncilMinutes.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the May 11, 2015 Tribal Council meeting minutes. <strong>During the 6 p.m. May 28, 2015 Special Tribal Council meeting called by Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Councilors discussed:</strong> •A LEGISLATIVE ACT RELATING TO AND APPROVING A COMPACT TO BE KNOWN AS THE "HUNTING AND FISHING COMPACT BETWEEN THE CHEROKEE NATION AND THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA" Councilor Vazquez moved to approve. Councilor Hargis seconded the motion. Speaker Glory Jordan stated lengthy discussion was just held on this item in committee and requested those comments stand. Councilor Hargis called for the question. Councilor Snell seconded the motion. The motion carried with the following roll call vote: ??Council of the Cherokee Nation ?Yea: 10 - Dick Lay;Jodie Fishinghawk;Janelle Fullbright;Tina Glory Jordan;Joe Byrd;David Thornton, Sr. ;Frankie Hargis ;Curtis Snell;Janees Taylor and Victoria Vazquez Nay: 5 - Lee Keener Jr.;Cara Cowan Watts;Don Garvin;Harley Buzzard and Jack D. Baker <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9486_May28TribalCouncilMinutes.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the May 28, 2015 Special Tribal Council meeting minutes. <strong>During the 6 p.m. April 13, 2015 Tribal Council meeting, Councilors discussed:</strong> • AN ACT AMENDING LEGISLATIVE ACT #25-14 AUTHORIZING THE COMPREHENSIVE OPERATING BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2015 - MOD. 9; AND DECLARING AN EMERGENCY Councilor Taylor moved to approve. Councilor Cowan Watts seconded the motion. The motion carried by acclimation. • A RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE SUBMISSION OF A SPECIAL GRANT APPLICATION FROM THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, OFFICE OF INDIAN ENERGY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (IEED), ENERGY AND MINERALS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM Councilor Fullbright moved to approve. Councilor Thornton seconded the motion. The motion carried. ...plus more. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9486_June15TribalCouncilMinutes.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the June 15, 2015 Tribal Council meeting minutes.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/08/2015 02:58 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court on July 8 granted a new election in the Dist. 14 Tribal Council race between William “Bill” Pearson and Keith Austin. The verbal ruling followed several hours of testimony in the appeal that Austin filed after losing the general election on June 27 by one vote and a recount on July 2 by six votes. The court ordered the tribe’s Election Commission to hold the new election as soon as possible but didn’t specify if that would be during the July 25 runoff. As of publication, EC officials said they had no comment as to when they would conduct the new election. The court did not issue a written opinion when it announced its decision, but justices said they would release one within the statutorily mandated timeframe. Austin filed the appeal on July 6 alleging that ballots were cast that should not have been accepted, ballots were cast that should have been accepted and two absentee ballot envelopes could not be found. “There is one challenged ballot that was rejected that should have been accepted; there are eight voters who live outside of Dist. 14 who are incorrectly registered to vote in Dist. 14 who voted; there are two voters who voted by absentee who ballots were rejected that should have been accepted; there is one voter whose absentee ballot was accepted, but the commission cannot locate his affidavit envelope and there are two absentee voters who the commission has not given voter credit to,” the appeal states. “For the forgoing reasons, it is apparent that the results of this election cannot be determined with mathematical certainty and Petitioner Austin requests that the Court order a new election.” Austin said this election was just too close to accurately discern what the will of the people was. "That is why the Supreme Court, after examining all the evidence, decided that our best course of action is to hold another election in Tribal Council District 14 and give the people another chance to make their voice heard," he added. Pearson said, “my opinion is to go forward and try to increase the margin (of victory).” Check back with the Cherokee Phoenix for further developments.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/03/2015 12:48 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to certified recount results, Wanda Hatfield and Betsy Swimmer are still the top two vote-getters who will face each other in the July 25 runoff for the At-Large Tribal Council seat. Following the June 27 general election, Election Commission officials posted results showing Hatfield leading with 25.94 percent of the ballots cast at 1,057 votes. Swimmer was second with 18.9 percent or 770 votes. Following the July 2 recount, Hatfield continued to lead with 1,057 votes, but Swimmer lost seven votes to finish with 763. The Cherokee Phoenix attempted to learn what happened to the seven votes, but as of press time EC officials were unavailable for comment. Swimmer said she was confident the EC had valid numbers. “So I’m pleased that it came out like it did,” she said. “I’m pressing forward and I plan to win the election.” Hatfield said the top three finishers remained the same with the recount and congratulated Swimmer on being in the runoff. “It has been a great experience and the next three weeks will be extremely busy reaching out to the At-Large Cherokee citizens,” she added. Candidate Shane Jett, who requested the recount, received 717 votes in the general election, but saw his vote count lowered to 713 in the recount. Jett said with the 2015 election being his first venture into Cherokee politics it was a learning experience, especially the importance of voters ensuring they cast their ballots correctly. “They (EC) had to throw away over 350 absentee ballots because they either did not sign them, notarize them or fill them out properly. So those votes were never counted,” he said. “It’s important that people slow down and make sure their vote counts. I hope everyone gets out and votes for their candidate of choice because their (Cherokee) Nation is worth it.” The EC performed the recount with CN Supreme Court justices present before certifying the results. Runoff absentee ballots will be mailed on July 13-14 and the runoff election will take place on July 25. All successful candidates are to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, according to the CN election timeline.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
07/02/2015 11:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the certified results from a July 2 recount, William “Bill” Pearson has beaten Keith Austin by six votes to win the Dist. 14 Tribal Council seat. Original certified results from the June 27 general election showed Pearson receiving 534 votes for 50.5 percent of the ballots cast, while Austin garnered 533 votes for 49.95 percent. Austin filed for a recount, which the tribe’s Election Commission performed. After that recount, Pearson had 525 votes for 50.2 percent compared to Austin’s 519 votes at 49.7 percent. The votes tabulated during the recount consisted of precinct, absentee, early absentee and precinct challenged. The recount had 23 votes less compared to the original count. EC officials said that occurred because of human error when inputting votes. “The challenged ballots from the districts were processed on Sunday (June 28) beginning at ”1 p.m. through 12:11 a.m. on Monday and resulted in 349 out of approximately 700 challenged ballots being accepted,” an EC statement reads. “The 349 ballots were then fed through a voting machine that was pre-defined for absentees, to get the vote count for the various races and candidates. The card from the machine was then placed in the computer to print out the challenged vote results. And unbeknownst to the operator it recorded the ballots as absentee votes then the operator took the printout of challenged ballots and manually entered them for the appropriate race and candidate, resulting in the 349 votes being entered twice.” The EC statement also reads that once this was discovered, those votes entered into the machine under absentee were removed. The challenged votes that were correctly placed in districts remained in those districts. “Resulting in the 349 being correctly counted,” the release stated. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted Pearson but he was unavailable for comment at the time of publication. In an email statement, Austin did not state whether he would appeal the recount results to the Supreme Court but that he appreciated the EC’s hard work. “They have the impossible job of determining a certifiable winner in a race that could not be closer,” Austin wrote. “Obviously, we want to work with the Election Commission and the Supreme Court to help determine that the election results are accurate. Cherokees took the time to vote because they have faith in our Nation. We owe it to them to ensure their intentions are honored and their votes count.” The EC certified the recount on July 2 in the presence of Supreme Court justices. Candidates have until July 6 to appeal election results with the Supreme Court. Provided there are any appeals, the Supreme Court would hear those cases July 7-9. Candidates elected to office during the general and runoff elections are expected to be sworn in Aug. 14, according to the tribe’s election timeline. The runoff election is set for July 25. <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/7/9410_ExplanationofRecalculationofVoteCount.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the Explanation of Recalculation of Vote Count document.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Phoenix Intern
06/29/2015 09:07 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Oka. – Shawn Crittenden defeated Corey Bunch for the Cherokee Nation’s District 8 Tribal Council seat in the June 27 general election. Crittenden won by a vote count of 486-307, according to certified results of the district’s three precincts. Those results showed Crittenden receiving 61.29 percent of the 793 ballots cast to Bunch’s 38.71 percent. “I’m mainly humbled and thankful for the folks in my district,” Crittenden said. “I had a lot of support and I thank the good Lord for the good feeling I have right now. I’m ready to get down to business with the people in my district. My plans are to be accessible and to stay on top of issues when folks need something, when they want to be heard. I want to do everything I can to show them I care and I’m going to work hard for them.” Bunch conceded the race in a Facebook post around midnight on June 28. “I want to congratulate Shawn Crittenden on winning the district 8 council seat. He ran a good and clean campaign and deserves the victory,” Bunch wrote. “I called and told him that I’m behind him 100% and that I would ask everyone else to do the same. I also want to say ‘Thank you’ to everyone who showed such kindness to me and my family for the past several months.” Dist. 8 covers the eastern part of Adair County, as well as much of its northern border. Crittenden is expected to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, the tribe’s inauguration day. The EC certified the results at 10:30 a.m. on June 29.