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
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.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Frankie Hargis looks to serve the Cherokee people of Dist. 7 for another term after being re-elected in June. Hargis was initially elected on Dec. 2, 2011, to replace S. Joe Crittenden, who resigned after being elected deputy chief. She served her first full term after being elected in 2013.
“I chose to run for re-election because I have enjoyed serving the Cherokee people. There are projects that I want to see completed, and there is still work to be done.” She said.
Raised in Stillwell, Hargis graduated from Stilwell High School and then from Northeastern Sate University with a bachelor’s degree in education. She has worked for the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Enterprises in several capacities.
“I was raised in Adair County, raised my children here and want only the best for Cherokees in this district. We have made great strides in several areas, including health care, education and housing,” she said.
Before taking a seat on the Tribal Council, Hargis had never planned to run for tribal office. However, when she saw that the people of Adair County needed someone to be a voice she made the decision to “step up” and be that voice.
“I saw a need, and I knew it was not right to sit back and hope someone else would take care of things,” Hargis said. “I was taught the importance of caring for others and that the right thing to do when you see a need is to step up and do what you can.”
During her time as a legislator, she has worked with the Tribal Council to complete projects to improve the well-being of Dist. 7 and its constituents, including getting $80,000 to establish a shelter in Stilwell for survivors of domestic violence, $4.2 million to build a new child development center in Stilwell, $11 million for the expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Clinic as well as $1 million for roads and bridges in Adair County.
Hargis said for this term she would continue to support the Cherokee people as she always has, but with one major goal in mind.
“I will continue to support health care, education, job development and housing,” she said. “One goal I do have is for the Housing Authority (of the Cherokee Nation) to build a housing addition in Adair County in the near future for those citizens who are on the New Home Construction Program list but do not have their own land.”
She added that she is honored to serve a second term. “It is my opinion, we should always consider it an honor to serve others. I count it a blessing to continue as District 7 Tribal Council representative.”
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – New At-Large Tribal Councilor Mary Baker Shaw said she’s “eager and excited” to begin assisting Cherokee Nation citizens in areas including health care and education.
Baker Shaw, who graduated from Tahlequah High School, said living in Tahlequah gave her a “unique perspective” on now being a CN citizen who lives outside the tribe’s jurisdiction in Oklahoma.
“They (at-large citizens) don’t have the same educational opportunities and benefits as in-jurisdiction has had,” she said. “They don’t have the advantage of the culture. When you’re in jurisdiction it’s just a part of your life more so than at-large. I want to engage our at-large communities to converse with each other and expose them and give them opportunities that they don’t have.”
Baker Shaw comes from a bloodline familiar with serving the Cherokee people. Her father, Amon A. Baker, was a Tribal Councilor under Principal Chiefs Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller.
“His advice is to always vote for what is best for the Cherokees,” she said of Amon’s influence.
Baker Shaw’s platform includes improving the tribe’s health care.
“I’ve got a lot of ideas about medical care, and I want to get more familiar than what I’ve been allowed to do so as a visitor in the committee meetings,” she said. “I think our Tribal Council has meant very well towards the medical care, but they don’t have a background in it.”
Baker Shaw has worked in the medical field for years, including earning her associate degree in nursing from Bacone College before going on to study anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Additionally, she has served as the director of surgery at Doctor’s Hospital in Tulsa and is the business manager for University Heights Medical Clinic in Muskogee.
She said she’s also concerned with educational opportunities for at-large citizens and regularly features scholarship information on her Facebook page.
“I call it ‘Scholarship Saturday,’” she said. “I provide every piece of information I can find on scholarships to try and help our at-large citizens in obtaining scholarships because I think education is the answer to just about any problem that we could possibly have.”
In addition to attending at-large meetings, Baker Shaw said she plans to create a monthly webcast beginning in September or October that will keep at-large citizens informed.
“I’m going to do these little webinar things to tell everyone what’s happening and how I voted and why,” she said. “I wanted to help in the ways of communicating and connecting with the at-large citizens because I saw a need that they feel disconnected from our tribe, and I’m hoping that I can come up with ways to help them feel more connected with our Cherokee Nation. All they’re getting is their ID cards, the tribal card, and I want them to have more than that to feel connected, so that’s what I’m hoping to do.”
Baker Shaw has been married to Dr. B Frank Shaw for 36 years and has one daughter and two granddaughters. According to her website, she also serves on the American Indian Resource Committee for Tulsa City/County Libraries, Bacone College board of trustees, Signature Symphony Advisory Board, Tulsa Community College Foundation and is an emeritus board member of Tulsa Opera.
Baker Shaw, along with eight other Tribal Councilors, was sworn in on Aug. 14 at Sequoyah High School’s “Place Where They Play” gymnasium.
VINITA, Okla. – In the fall of 2013, Victoria Vazquez was elected to the Tribal Council after then Dist. 11 Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr. was appointed to serve as the Cherokee Nation’s secretary of state.
“I had a special election with two opponents that took about six weeks, and on Oct. 22, I was sworn in,” Vazquez said.
In 2017, before the CN’s general election in June, Vazquez faced no opponents to again represent Dist. 11, which includes all of Craig County, part of northern Mayes County and northern Nowata County. Her district includes more than 2,000 constituents.
Before becoming a Tribal Councilor, Vazquez was a self-employed potter. She became well-known for her pottery classes, which she taught for about 20 years. She is a consultant, educator, historian and potter who showcases pottery that southeastern United States tribes once. She also helps preserve that culture, she said.
In 1990, Vazquez took a year off from working to study as an apprentice in pottery with her mother, Anna Sixkiller Mitchell. A full-blood Cherokee, Mitchell revived Southeastern and woodlands-style pottery in Oklahoma more than 40 years ago, Vazquez said.
Vazquez’s pottery is on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Department of Interior, University of Arkansas, Bartlesville History Museum, Cherokee Heritage Center, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, First National Banks and in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg collection.
Vazquez did not have political experience before being elected to the Tribal Council. Instead, she worked with the CN by teaching classes at the CHC, schools and various places for 10 years, she said.
“I had established a relationship with a lot of people with the CN, and I had become well-known in the area. As a Tribal Councilor, you’re a representative and you develop a relationship with your constituents,” she said.
During the 2017-21 term, Vazquez said she would like to see certain areas of the tribe improve.
“The main issues I am working on are health care, housing, scholarships and just about anything CN offers to our citizens. I ensure our citizens have access to that,” Vazquez said.
During this term, she said she plans on building a nutrition center in Vinita that is modeled after those in Jay and Nowata for low-income citizens.
“Currently those in need have to drive to Jay or Nowata. This center could serve them lunch several days a week. We have a few of these in other (CN) districts, and it is my main goal for my district,” she said.
In 2015, Vazquez was elected to serve as deputy speaker of the Tribal Council and is serving as the chairwoman of Culture Committee. She said she does most of her representative outreach through email. To contact her, email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Dr. Mike Dobbins, of Fort Gibson, said he’s ready to serve his first term as the Dist. 4 Tribal Councilor and looks to improve the Cherokee Nation’s health care system.
Dobbins will take his councilor seat with 37 years of experience in health care, practicing dentistry for 20 of those years.
“I chose to run because from a distance I’ve become quite familiar with the Cherokee health system, and there are some great things about it. The framework’s in place…and a lot of good has transpired. With my experience I feel like I can lend some expertise to help improve the system. That was my primary motive in running for council...to see what I could do to improve the health care system,” Dobbins said.
He said he has more to learn about the CN Health Services and how it functions on a daily basis.
Dobbins is also involved in higher education, teaching at dental schools for the past 17 years and assisting Cherokee students interested in health care.
“I’ve assisted multiple Cherokee students with scholarship opportunities, not only with Cherokee scholarships, but with other Native American scholarships and try to help them go through college with little-to-no debt as possible,” he said.
He said in Dist. 4, he’s also heard concerns from CN citizens about housing issues.
“I’m also knowledgeable of the fact that there’s a lot of other Cherokee needs (including) infrastructure, housing, elder care. I’m also sensitive to those areas as well. I plan to be a multi-purpose councilman,” Dobbins said. “I’m on the outside right now, but I intend to see (and) get familiarized with the housing program and make sure that citizens of District 4 are considered for any housing possibilities.”
The 2017 Tribal Council election was Dobbins’ second attempt at becoming a CN legislator. He said he learned from his “mistakes” four years ago and that it was a “less stressful” campaign this time around.
“I ran four years ago and lost by two (votes) to an 18-year incumbent,” he said. “You learn by experience, and I enlisted more help, actually, this time. I tried to do a lot of myself four years ago. I’d say…most importantly I learned what not to do rather than what to do.”
Dobbins said he has an obligation to serve not only the CN citizens who helped or voted for him, but also those who did not.
“I’m their councilman now, and I feel a deep debt of obligation to fulfill that duty,” he said. “I just look forward to serving the Cherokee people on the council. I do have a busy schedule but I feel like I will be accessible. I have a busy schedule outside my councilman responsibilities, but my councilman responsibility will be my priority.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Supreme Court Chief Justice John Garrett swore in Dist. 2 Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd and Dist. 11 Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez as the legislative body’s speaker and deputy speaker, respectively, during the Aug. 15 Tribal Council meeting at the W. W. Keeler Complex.
The Tribal Council re-elected the two legislators earlier in the day at a special Rules Committee meeting to serve in the positions.
“I am humbled by the confidence my fellow councilors place in me by voting for me to serve a second term as speaker of the Tribal Council,” Byrd said. “I believe we are on a positive trajectory in accomplishing great things for our people and look forward to working diligently to continue on that path.”
Vazquez said it was an “an honor and a privilege to serve as deputy speaker.”
“I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of the Cherokee Nation citizens, who should be at the heart and soul of everything we do as a Tribal Council. We are a strong Nation, and I look forward to seeing what the coming years hold for us,” she said.
During the special Rules Committee meeting, legislators also selected chairs and co-chairs for each Tribal Council committee as well as Tribal Council secretary.
Byrd was reappointed speaker by a 15-2 vote, while Vazquez was unanimously re-elected as deputy speaker.
Councilor Frankie Hargis was unanimously reappointed as secretary.
Byrd was also selected as Rules Committee chairman while Councilor Bryan Warner was chosen as co-chairman. Councilor Janees Taylor was reappointed chair as Executive and Finance Committee chairwoman with Councilor Keith Austin as her co-chairman. Councilor Dick Lay kept his position as chairman of the Community Service Committee with Councilor Harley Buzzard as co-chairman. Vazquez and Byrd also retained their positions as chairwoman and co-chairman of the Culture Committee. Councilor David Walkingstick was reappointed as chairman of the Education Committee with Warner as co-chairman. The Health Committee will have Councilor Mary Baker Shaw as its chairwoman and Councilor Dr. Mike Dobbins as co-chairman. Councilor Rex Jordan is the new chairman of the Resource Committee with Councilor E.O. Smith as co-chairman.
In other business, legislators:
• Unanimously passed two resolutions appointing Janice Purcell and Tina Glory Jordan to as commissioners on the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission,
• Increased the comprehensive capital budget for fiscal year 2017 by $79,956 for a total capital budget authority of $279.1 million,
• Increased the FY 2017 comprehensive operating budget by $1.3 million to $705.2 million, and
• Awarded Cherokee Warrior Veterans Medals of Patriotism to Darin McCarty, Jack Shamblin and Wayne Kellehan for their service in the U.S. military.
PRYOR, Okla. – As she enters her second term, Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor hopes to continue pushing education and health care as well as focus on how the shift in the White House could affect the Cherokee Nation.
She was first elected in 2013 to serve Dist. 15, which consists of southern Mayes and southern Rogers counties. When it comes to education, Taylor said her district has Oklahoma State University’s Institute of Technology and Rogers State University to give students chances to explore various career fields.
“I’m looking forward to the opening of the (W.W.) Hasting’s Clinic (in Tahlequah) and using that as a working, training hospital. RSU has programs to train health care professionals as does the vo-tech school, and I’ve got both of those right here (Pryor),” she said. “I’m looking forward to having those kids stay at home, take care of their own. I think those young professionals are going to fall in love with our way of life there in Tahlequah with the river and the scenery and all the things that are to do. They’ll stay and we’ll have this local talent staying right here in northeast Oklahoma, so I’m excited about that.”
She said CN citizens’ health is also an important issue, with a focal point being preventative health. “My passion is preventative health, and teaching Cherokees to own their health and look after their health. We have some excellent programs with…the cooking classes that we have in diabetes management, the fitness classes with the Wings (Fitness) Program that we have. That sort of thing is teaching our citizens that you don’t have to be a statistic. You can own your health, and here’s some ways to help you live a healthier life.”
She said by stressing a healthier lifestyle she’s noticed more citizens taking heed.
“I’ve talked to several elders who have participated in the diabetes cooking classes and they get excited about cooking good, healthy food, and a lot of people have never been taught that before,” she said. “That’s been one of the neatest things to see is that excitement in someone that’s 60, 70 maybe even 80 years old learning a new way to cook old favorites and make it taste good.”
Taylor said she is also focusing on how the Trump administration could affect tribal programs.
“What a lot of people at-large don’t realize is that only 5 percent of Cherokee Nation’s $1 billion budget comes from our gaming revenue. The vast majority of our budget is either federal programs that we administer or there are grants that our departments go out and get to run the programs that they have,” she said. “So we are going to have to watch the changes in Washington, D.C., from the funds that come down so that we can be sure to continue to serve our citizens with the programs that they depend on. Even if there may be a change in funding or a change in the way we can administer the funds or the amount of funds, I don’t want that to get ahead of us where all of a sudden we don’t have the funding that we expected from Washington, D.C., and so we have to cut back on a program.”
Taylor said she is “humbled” her constituents re-elected her and plans to continue working with them. “I do look at it as we’re working in this together. I am here to help them navigate the Cherokee Nation, and we’ll do it together.”