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

06/18/2014 10:23 AM

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

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 • 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


12/17/2014 12:48 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Tribal Council unanimously amended the tribe’s fiscal year 2015 comprehensive operating and capital budgets. The operating budget increased to $622.9 million from $615.4 million. The extra funds came from FY 2014 carryover funds. The $7.5 million is to provide $2.1 million to operate the Ochelata Health Center and add new jobs, while $2.4 million will add employees at other CN health facilities. The CN health center in Bartlesville will move from its 5,000-square-foot space to a new 28,000-square-foot stand-alone facility in Ochelata. Approximately $2.7 million will be allocated to additional child care resources for CN citizens who meet income guidelines, and another $300,000 will go toward miscellaneous grants. “Providing Cherokee citizens with quality health care is the top priority of this body, and in order to achieve that goal we must ensure our health facilities employ staff that will meet the health needs of the citizens,” Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan said. “We not only want to build first-class health care facilities, but we want to staff the facilities with first-class personnel. This increase in funds helps the Cherokee Nation work toward that goal.” The capital budget increased by $4.8 million to $124.5 million. The money is earmarked for medical equipment for the four new health centers, which are under construction. “Big, aesthetically pleasing health care facilities are only as good as the equipment and staff inside,” Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright said. “By increasing funding for staff and earmarking money for medical equipment, the Cherokee Nation is making it known the tribe is committed to the health of its citizens.” Officials also honored three Cherokee veterans with Cherokee Medals of Patriotism. Arthur “Watie” Bell, 80, of Claremore; Robert G. Ketcher, 72, of Stilwell; and Samuel W. O’Fields, 80, of Claremore, were all presented plaques and medals by Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. Bell enlisted in the Navy in 1951 and was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Miramar-San Diego from 1951-53. While there his assignment was base security, which included roving patrols and brig force gate duty. He also trained guard dogs. Bell completed eight weeks of Airman Class P School in Norman in 1953 and reported to the USS Tarawa CV-40 where he was assigned to the aviation gasoline division. Bell maintained the inert gas room and refueling aircrafts on the flight and hanger decks. Bell made one cruise, which encircled the world and ended in October 1954. He was later released from active duty and returned to reserve status and was eventually discharged from the Navy in 1955. He then joined the Army Reserve and completed his eight years of military service. Bell was discharged from the Army in 1959. “This gentleman serves on our color guard, honor guard and does a great job and we’re so thankful for that,” Crittenden said. Ketcher enlisted in the Army in March 1966. In December 1966 he deployed to Vietnam where he became the 1st Calvary’s squad leader and fired 81mm mortar guns. While there Ketcher’s mission was to “search and destroy.” He was discharged in 1968. O’Fields enlisted in the Army in 1956. He completed seven weeks of basic training and specialty unit training in California. He was sent to Bamberg, Germany, and served in the Tactical Operations and Equipment unit, which was part of the Mortar Battery, 2nd Battalion Group, 29th Infantry. O’Fields’ rank was private first class when he was discharged in June 1962. Terry Crow, 47, of Tahlequah, was to be honored but was not able to attend. Crow enlisted in the Army in 1989. He served in Desert Storm in Iraq. Crow received a Bronze Star during his service and was discharged in 1992. During Cherokee Nation Businesses interim CEO Shawn Slaton’s monthly report, Tribal Councilor Lee Keener questioned Slaton about what would happen to the former American Woodmark building in Tahlequah that CNB purchased in 2012. The building was home to Cherokee Nation Industry employees who evaluated and repackaged televisions that had been returned to United States-based Wal-Mart stores. CNI had a two-year contract with Miami, Florida-based company TRG to repair and refurbish TVs for Wal-Mart. The contract ended Dec. 1. Slaton said employees were cleaning the site and he hoped to have something in the building as soon as possible. “We’re currently in the process of giving that a good scrub down and cleaning. (CNB Executive Vice President) Chuck Garrett’s group is actively searching for the next tenant. We’ve got two or three possibilities, one from Muskogee. We’re just trying to work those possibilities to see what we can land there.”
12/01/2014 02:54 PM
During the 6 p.m. Oct. 13, 2014 Tribal Council meeting, Councilors discussed: • A resolution authorizing the submission of an application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for FY15 funding for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program • A resolution confirming the nomination of T. Luke Barteaux as an Editorial Board member of the Cherokee Phoenix • A resolution confirming the nomination of Kendra Sue McGeady as an Editorial Board member of the Cherokee Phoenix ...and more. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> the Oct. 13, 2014 meeting minutes. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to view</a> the Oct. 13 Tribal Council meeting video.
11/28/2014 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council approved Cherokee Nation citizens Luke Barteaux and Kendra McGeady to the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board during its Oct. 13 meeting. Barteaux replaces board member Claryce Doyle, whose term ends October 2014. Under the Independent Press Act, Doyle’s term might have been a six-year term. Section 6 of Legislative Act 16-09 states “the terms of office of the Board members shall be six years.” In an opinion, Attorney General Todd Hembree addresses the discrepancy in the length of Doyle’s term after having a question presented to him by Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. The question asked was “Will Claryce Doyle’s term as Editorial Board Member of the Cherokee Phoenix end in October 2014?” According to Hembree’s opinion, “there is nothing ambiguous about the language used in the (Doyle’s) Resolution.” “Because there is no ambiguity in the language used by the Tribal Council, it is the opinion of the Attorney General that the resolution must be taken at face value; the body has expressed its intent in the language of the Resolution, and the Council must have intended the result that it dictated,” the opinion states. “The Attorney General cannot re-write the resolutions and acts passed by the Tribal Council, and the plain language of Resolution 04-12 leaves no room for interpretation or examination of legislative intent.” The opinion states that pursuant to the language in Doyle’s resolution, it expired in October 2014. “It is highly recommended in the future that the Tribal Council clearly delineate what office an appointee is filling in the resolution itself,” Hembree states. Barteaux, who will serve a six-year term as the principal chief’s appointment, passed by a 14-1-1 vote. Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts voted against the nomination, while Tribal Councilor Julia Coates abstained. During the meeting, Cowan Watts said she could not support Barteaux because she did not think he met the journalism qualifications the Independent Press Act requires. Hoskin said the administration vetted the nominee. “I have to respectfully disagree with the council lady from Rogers County. In fact, Mr. Barteaux by any objective standards, meets the letter of the law that this council passed,” Hoskin Jr. said. “Very confident that he meets the qualifications.” The Phoenix requested vetting documents from Hoskin but was told no vetting documentation existed. Barteaux has a juris doctorate from the University of Tulsa and a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and administration from the University of Oklahoma. His work history includes being an editorial board member for the Family Law Section Practice Manual for the Oklahoma Bar Association. He also works as an attorney, as well as having worked for Cherokee Nation Enterprises from 2004-07 and in 2009. McGeady, the Tribal Council’s appointment who will serve a six-year term, also had her nomination questioned during the meeting. Cowan Watts said she did not think McGeady was qualified because McGeady has no management-level experience in journalism as required by the law. However, Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan said she thinks McGeady meets requirements. “I feel that you’re very qualified. I feel that both the nominees were very qualified,” Glory Jordan said. McGeady is a graduate of NEO A&M College in Miami. She is presently the director of planning and development/marketing director for Home of Hope Inc. Her past employment includes working two stints at the Vinita Daily Journal as a reporter, as well as working as a secretary for Craig County Commissioners and a contract survey specialist for Grand Gateway. Her nomination passed with a vote of 13-2-1. Cowan Watts and Tribal Councilor Lee Keener voted no, while Coates abstained. Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez was absent. Coates said she was saddened that board member and At-Large CN citizen Jason Terrell, who McGeady replaces, wasn’t reappointed. Editorial Board Chairman John Shurr said the Phoenix has made great strides since 2000 and that he has high hopes for the two new board members. “My history with the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board predates its existence and, in fact, was a mechanism I developed as a way to protect the newspaper and its staff from political interference. I was asked in 1999 to contribute ideas to what became the Independent Press Act of 2000 and I figured an editorial board, initially made up of three people, would be a good wedge between tribal politics and our newspaper,” he said. “It won the prestigious Elias Boudinot Award from the Native American Journalists Association in 2001 and has held up well, so far. That same year we also won the General Excellence Award for newspapers publishing one to six times a year, and today we publish monthly, with more frequent updates on the Phoenix web site. We now have five editorial board members including two new ones, neither of whom I’ve met or had a conversation, but I have high hopes that they’ll help carry on the standards that the law mandates.”
11/17/2014 12:04 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler recently named Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis to the FCC-Native Nations Broadband Task Force. The 31-member task force is comprised of elected and appointed leaders from federally recognized Native tribes and officials from the FCC. A total of 20 tribes are represented on the task force. Established in 2011, the task force serves as an advisory board to the FCC by consulting on issues affecting Native people and promoting the development of broadband on tribal lands, including better access to high-speed Internet. “Much of the Cherokee Nation and Indian Country continue to have limited access to broadband,” Hargis, of Stilwell, said. “This task force has the critical mission of voicing the concerns of our Native people and helping close the gaps of broadband access, so that all Native people have equal opportunity to take full advantage of the benefits of broadband.” Task force members meet in person twice per year to discuss issues and voice concerns of the Native people, with one at the FCC in Washington, D.C., and the other abroad. Four teleconference meetings are held each year to supplement the semiannual in-person meetings. “We could not have a better representative than Councilor Hargis to voice the concerns of our underserved rural communities on this issue. Few understand the connection between broadband and rural economic development the way she does,” CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. Hargis will serve a three-year term on the task force. For more information on the task force, <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
11/17/2014 09:59 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Following some debate, Tribal Councilors approved Lynn Burris as a justice of the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court at their Nov. 13 meeting. Tribal Councilor Julia Coates questioned Burris’s involvement with the tribe’s Employee Appeals Board and his brother Lyle’s serving on the EAB. “I believe he’s well qualified, but he has been serving on our Employee Appeals Board for several years at this point. We currently have some cases in front of the Supreme Court involving dismissals of employees, alleged illegal termination of employees that Mr. Burris has already ruled on as a member of the EAB that he will be potentially having a second opportunity to rule on as a justice of the Supreme Court,” she said. “In addition, he’s got a brother who continues to serve on the Employee Appeals Board, and it’s not inconceivable that there will be additional cases of this kind coming in front of the Supreme Court as there have been over these past several years. And I feel as though there are some things here that I’m very, very uncomfortable (with), again family relationships and conflicts that come forth.” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. reiterated what Burris discussed at a Rules Committee meeting earlier in the day, saying Burris confirmed that his brother Lyle would resign if Burris were to receive approval. Hoskin said he has no doubt Burris would follow rules in place to recuse a judge. Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts asked Hoskin if Burris was related to any elected officials, board members or constitutional appointees. Hoskin said Burris’s daughter, Amber George, sits on the Cherokee Nation Foundation board and his son-in-law, Buck George, sits on the Cherokee Nation Businesses board of directors. Coates asked if Burris would recuse himself from cases involving CNB, CNF or the EAB. “If we do have assurances that Mr. Burris will recuse himself from cases involving CNB, involving CNF and involving any that are coming up from the EAB, and if his brother is going to resign from the EAB, then I too will feel comfortable,” she said. Hoskin said he could not speak for Burris regarding possible cases but that Burris gave his assurance “that he’ll recuse himself when the ethics of being a judge require that.” “I’m not going to speak for Mr. Burris. I’m not going to speculate on cases. No judge would speculate on a case that might come before them,” Hoskin said. “You have my assurance that he will adhere to the standards of judicial conduct. You have my assurances that his brother has indicated that he will resign. That’s the extent that I can address that.” Tribal Councilor Speaker Tina Glory Jordan said Burris’ 39 years of practicing law would make him the most experienced justice on the court. “If confirmed tonight, he will become our most experienced judicial appointment today, so I will be supporting him,” she said. “He’s very well aware of the rules on when he needs to recuse and when he does not need to recuse. This is not a gentleman that’s going into it with a lack of experience.” Burris replaces Chief Justice Darrell Dowty. Burris is a former United Keetoowah Band Supreme Court justice, federal magistrate, associate district judge and assistant district attorney. His nomination passed unanimously with Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk absent. The Tribal Council also approved Maxie Thompson to the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board by a 13-3 vote with Tribal Councilors Cowan Watts, Coates and Lee Keener opposing. Cowan Watts said she would not vote for Thompson because he wasn’t qualified. “I have nothing against you. I simply believe that the law states, or the Independent Press Act, that you would require a journalism degree and work in administration of a journal or newspaper, and I just simply do not think that you’re a fit for the Editorial Board according to the law which is why I will be voting no this evening,” she said. Tribal Councilor Janelle Fullbright said the position that Thompson was being appointed for was not for a person with a background in journalism. “I think he’s highly qualified for this position,” she said. “This is a position that is for a lay person. This is a vacancy for a lay person, not a journalist. So we have a division of opinion here as to what vacancy he is filling. He is highly qualified as an ordinary person. Everybody that is on the Editorial Board does not have to be journalists. This position that we’re filling tonight is for a lay person.” Thompson is a former construction contractor who also served 16 years as a Cherokee County commissioner for Cherokee County. He is now retired. He replaces former board member Keith Austin, who was appointed in April 2013. His term will end on April 1, 2019, according to the resolution. Councilors also approved the transfer of trust land in Sequoyah County to CN citizen Charles Stilwell, with some legislators raising concerns. According to the resolution, the CN has “established the Malloy Hollow housing subdivision on a part of this acquired property in Adair County. Cherokee Nation desires to transfer a tract of Trust land adjoining the Malloy Hollow housing subdivision in fee status to Charles Stilwell, a Cherokee Nation citizen. The 1.23 acre tract lies along the northwestern boundary of Tract 8 in the Malloy Hollow subdivision.” “I’m not going to vote no on it, but I am going to abstain because I’m hoping that some of the smart guys down at the other end of the building can figure out how to trade this type of property, somehow someway,” Tribal Councilor Dick Lay said. “We’re doing it in other areas. Of course, it’s kind of time consuming. If we trade the property and bring it to say Tahlequah and give this property to this gentleman I think that would have been a better way to do it.” The resolution passed 12-0-4 with Tribal Councilors Lay, Cowan Watts, Keener and Don Garvin abstaining. Councilors also approved the CN Housing Rehabilitation Program to donate surplus real estate, including a replacement home, to Susan L. Brown in Sequoyah County. The resolution passed unanimously. Legislators also reappointed Michael Watkins, Buck Charles George, Harold “Sam” Ray Hart, Gary Cooper, Jerry Holderby and Deacon Turner to the CNB board of directors for three-year terms. However, Bob Berry’s reappointment to the board met resistance from Cowan Watts. “So Mr. Berry was involved, or part of, the purchase of the golf course and the farm land here in Tahlequah,” she said. “Even though he abstained from that vote on the board I still see it has a pretty significant conflict of interest, an $8.5 million purchase and there’s other things that I don’t favor in terms of conflict of interest. So that’s why I won’t be supporting Mr. Berry, even though I appreciate your service.” Fullbright responded by saying Berry clarified he wanted no part of that transaction. “First off, I want to clarify that in this transaction he made it very clear that he had no interest whatsoever in the raw property and he was a minority holder of the…Cherry Springs Golf Clubhouse,” Fullbright said. “So whether he really wanted to sell it or not sell it, since he was a minority in it, he really had no say so over it whatsoever. He is one of our very best board members.” The nomination passed 13-3 with Cowan Watts, Keener and Coates opposing. Comments also surfaced when it came to Brent Taylor’s reappointment to the CNB board. Cowan Watts said although she believes Taylor is diligent at his position she could not support his reappointment because he is married to Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor. “I don’t want to take away from that, but the reality is your wife sits on council, and although the attorney general has cleared that as not a conflict of interest I think it’s something that we can’t work around, so I can’t in good conscience with my individual vote on council support both her being on council and you being on the businesses board,” she said. His nomination passed 12-3-1 with Cowan Watts, Keener and Coates opposing. Janees Taylor abstained.
11/03/2014 03:06 PM
During the 6 p.m. Sept. 15, 2014 Tribal Council meeting, Councilors discussed: • A resolution authorizing the Cherokee Nation to become a member of the National Congress of American Indians and to appoint the tribal delegate and alternates. • An act amending LA-04-14 the Cherokee Nation election code to address notary public issues and the return of absentee ballots. • A resolution authorizing the approval to submit a grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy regarding energy efficiency projects on indian lands. ...and more. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to read</a> the Sept. 15, 2014 meeting minutes. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here to view</a> the Sept. 15 Tribal Council meeting video.