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.

Election

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.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
06/29/2015 01:33 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to certified results, At-Large Tribal Council candidates Wanda Hatfield and Betsy Swimmer will face each other in the July 25 runoff. Election Commission officials posted results showing Wanda Hatfield leading with 25.94 percent or 1,057 votes, while Betsy Swimmer was second with 18.9 or 770 votes. “We’re very excited about it,” Hatfield said. “We’re already planning what we’re going to do next.” Hatfield, from Oklahoma City, said the At-Large race was clean, respectful and all online comments were kind and professional. “It was a race that I feel like there were 10 very qualified candidates, and I think we all worked very hard,” she said. Swimmer, of Broken Arrow, said she felt privileged the Cherokee people have confidence in her. “I will work very, very hard to make sure that they have proper representation,” she said. “We had some really wonderful candidates running, so with that in mind I certainly feel like it’s a great honor to have been selected.” According to the certified results, the vote breakdown for the remaining At-Large candidates were: • Shane Jett with 17.6 percent or 717 votes, • Deborah Reed with 7.98 percent or 325 votes, • Tommy Jones with 6.82 percent or 278 votes, • Pamela Fox with 6.06 percent or 247 votes, • Benjamin McKee with 6.06 percent or 247 votes, • Linda Leaf-Bolin with 4.71 percent or 192 votes, • Darell R. Matlock Jr. with 4 percent or 163 votes, and • Trey Brown with 1.94 percent or 79 votes. The EC met on June 29 to certify the general election 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 set to be sworn into office on Aug. 14, according to the Cherokee Nation’s election timeline.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
06/29/2015 01:26 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the certified election results of the June 27 general election, William “Bill” Pearson beat Keith Austin by one vote to win the Tribal Council’s Dist. 14 seat. Results show that Pearson received 534 votes for 50.05 percent of the ballots, while Austin received 533 votes for 49.95 percent. The Cherokee Phoenix contacted both candidates, but neither was available for comment at the time of publication. The EC certified the results at on June 29. Candidates have until 5 p.m. on July 1 to request a recount. Recounts are scheduled for July 2-3 with Supreme Court justices in attendance. The election appeals deadline is July 6. Provided there are any appeals, the Supreme Court will hear those cases July 7-9. Candidates who are 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.
BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
06/29/2015 01:18 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to certified election results, former Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen will return to the Tribal Council to fill the Dist. 13 seat. Anglen, who previously served as Tribal Councilor from 2002-13, won the race with 63.67 percent of the votes at 517 votes. His opponent, Kenneth Holloway, had 36.33 percent or 295 votes. Election Commission officials returned to the Election Services Office on June 28 to count challenged ballots and included them in the final unofficial results. The EC certified the results on June 29. Anglen said, to be safe, he would wait until the challenged ballots were counted before commenting. He could not be reached at the time of publication. Holloway, who conceded the race around 9 a.m. on June 28, congratulated Anglen and offered his support and prayers as Anglen moves into office. He also thanked his supporters. “I want to thank God first and foremost, then my wife who is my biggest supporter and kept me going, my family and everyone who believed in me on this journey to become Dist. 13’s Tribal Councilor,” he said. Dist. 13 covers most of the northeast Tulsa County and part of western Rogers County. Inauguration day for elected officials is set for Aug. 14, according to the Cherokee Nation’s election timeline.