CN pays state $19M in gaming fees
TAHLEQUAH – At a recent Rules Committee meeting, Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission Director Jamie Hummingbird told Tribal Councilors that the CN paid the state more than $19 million in gaming compact fees for calendar year 2017.
“This year, in 2017, is the highest amount that we paid under our compact,” Hummingbird said. “We paid just a little over $19 million surpassing last year I think by about $800,000.”
Hummingbird said, since the 2005 compact agreement, the CN has paid more than $207 million in fees to the state.
“Under the terms of the tribal-state compact, the state of Oklahoma receives a percentage of revenues from the play of covered games, whether electronic gaming machines or card and table games,” he said. “Statewide, tribes have collectively paid over $1.3 billion to state in compact payments.”
He said tribes have paid the state an average of $129 million per year during the previous five years and more than $133 million in 2017 alone.
“Tribes have not only met the expectation, but have exceeded it by over $50 million each year,” Hummingbird said.
According to the state-tribal gaming compacts, compacted tribes pay monthly exclusivity fees to the state for the exclusive right to operate compacted gaming. Those compacts state that fees for electronic covered games are calculated at 4 percent for the first $10 million of annual adjusted gross revenue, 5 percent for the next $10 million of AGR and 6 percent of AGR over $20 million. For table games, the state collects 10 percent of the monthly net win.
According to gaming compacts, fee payments are made to the state treasurer with their allocations going to no particular state purpose, but where the state deems necessary.
Hummingbird said the tribe is also responsible for submitting fees to the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.
“Due to its proximity to horse racing tracks licensed by the…OHRC, and under the terms of the State Gaming Act, of which the model compact is a part, the Cherokee Nation is also responsible for submitting fees to the OHRC and to the Fair Meadows horse track in Tulsa, a responsibility shared with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Osage Nation,” Hummingbird said.
He said tribal law states the CN receives 37 percent of net profits in the form of dividends from gaming facilities.
“These funds are then allocated by administration and Tribal Council for various programs including, but not limited to, housing, education and health,” he said.
The current 15-year compact expires on Jan. 1, 2020. However, Hummingbird said the agreement automatically renews if it’s not mutually dissolved by the state and CN.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) — A 32-year-old Oklahoma state prison inmate has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a couple in their home more than a decade ago.
Court records show Justin James Walker of Tahlequah was charged Friday in the December 2007 shootings of 65-year-old Jack Denney and his wife, 66-year-old Elaine Denney.
Court records do not list an attorney for Walker, who is listed as an inmate by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections for drug, weapons and burglary convictions.
The Denney's were found dead on Christmas Day 2007 when their daughter and her family arrived at the home near Locust Grove to exchange Christmas gifts.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – While the news media nationally are facing new perils with the rise of fake news on social media and attempts to discredit legitimate reporting, press freedom advocates in Oklahoma say legislative threats this year to the public’s access to government center mostly on agencies trying to save money.
Amid another cash-strapped state budget, some agencies are looking at ways to potentially save this year by restricting the public’s access to records or information, said Mark Thomas, executive vice president for the Oklahoma Press Association, which represents daily and weekly newspapers across the state.
“When I look at a lot of the bills this year, they are bills to give government bodies the opportunity to sell their records or restrict access to records to help the government ... make money,” said Thomas, a lobbyist who has worked with lawmakers for more than 20 years to defeat or narrowly tailor bills that may restrict the public’s access to government and its records.
In the past, Thomas said issues like terrorism led to government efforts to keep information secret because of security concerns, like details about public buildings or utilities. Last year, a family upset about details of their son’s autopsy published in a newspaper led to restrictions on releasing those reports.
Among the bills Thomas has concerns with this year is House Bill 3324, a bill requested by the Tulsa County sheriff that would allow counties to destroy most body camera footage after 90 days. The bill includes exceptions, including recordings that depict officer-involved shootings, use of lethal force or incidents for which a written application is made. Some sheriffs are concerned about the cost of storing digital records, but Thomas said that’s the kind of information that belongs to the public and the importance of which may not be immediately known.
“It was seven years, now it’s a year, and now they want 90 days,” Thomas said. “That’s much too short.”
Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado said he thinks body-worn cameras benefit both the department and the public, but he’s concerned the storage costs could make the program cost prohibitive.
“What we’re seeing is those systems can be quite costly, and the majority of that has to do with (data) storage,” Regalado said.
Other bills Thomas is monitoring would allow the Department of Corrections to keep secret certain records about an inmate’s family or allow some board discussion — on subjects like private prison rates or prison industries — to take place behind closed doors.
One bill would keep secret certain juvenile criminal records, while others would allow for the sale of some court records.
TAHLEQUAH – Students at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah walked out of their classes on March 14 as part of a nationwide movement to draw attention to gun violence in schools and to honor the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
The coordinated walkout was organized by the youth wing of the Women’s March called EMPOWER, which encouraged students across the country to walk out of their classes at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to commemorate a minute for each of the 17 victims gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14.
Organizers said nearly 3,000 walkouts were set to take place throughout the U.S. and around the world, resulting in the largest demonstration of student activism that has yet to emerge since the massacre.
Sequoyah seniors Celia Bateman and Raelee Fourkiller organized the walkout at their school in unity with the rest of their peers around the country hoping to take a stand against gun violence.
“We did it to demonstrate that we have power in our voices and that these students behind us have power too, and we want them to utilize it to their fullest,” said Bateman. “I think it is very important to remember that this walk out isn’t about us or by us, it is in solidarity with other schools around the nation who are also participating in the walk out. We are just a little ripple in the pond, just a few drops in the bucket of students who are overflowing and who are tired of not being heard.”
Bateman said although some of the parents, faculty and even students weren’t “too big” on the walkout, the administration allowed them their time.
“They didn’t like the word protest, it is sort of a protest but a silent and peaceful protest. It wasn’t mandatory at all, but it was definitely a big step for those that did come out. A lot of people came out and supported it today and that is really important,” she said.
Sequoyah’s speech and theater teacher Amanda Ray said it was “inspiring” to see students taking the initiative to speak out and care about something such as gun control and showing respect for students who have been victims of mass shootings all over the country.
“I saw all of my speech and theater students out here because they know to be here and they know to have a voice,” she said. “We have talked extensively about gun control and common-sense-gun laws in my speech and debate classes. To me it’s so important to educate them because so many students are coming here and they aren’t educated on common sense gun laws, so to be able to help in that education here at Sequoyah is incredibly important and necessary.”
With their walkout also geared towards school safety, Fourkiller said she hopes people will understand the important roll teachers play in the school system and in turn will start “talking” about teacher salaries.
“With the 284 lives that were lost, their had to be people there protecting them. Teachers, staff members and faculty, they were all in the building at the same time, which hits on why aren’t teachers being paid enough. People need to be talking about that. We need to be talking about the education system in America, and we need to be standing with teachers in April when they walk out too,” said Fourkiller.
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Businesses officials are expected to break ground on CNB’s new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah at 1 p.m. on March 26 at the Cherokee Springs Plaza.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker made the announcement during his State of the Nation address at the March 12 Tribal Council meeting.
In 2014, CN and CNB officials announced plans to build the plaza with venues for dining, shopping and gaming. In a previous Cherokee Phoenix article, officials said the plaza is anticipated to be 1.3 million square feet of mixed-use space, developed at an estimated cost of $170 million. Officials also said it was to be completed in three phases.
The tribe completed Phase 1 of the project in 2016, which included road construction and pad sites where businesses would be developed. Since then Taco Bueno, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic and Stuteville Ford have opened businesses at the site.
The next phase is the construction and relocation of Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, officials said. The new casino is expected to feature a resort hotel, convention center and golf clubhouse. The final phase includes the creation of a retail strip.
TAHLEQUAH – At the March 12 Tribal Council meeting, Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed into law a $10,000 pay increase for 45 certified teachers at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School and Sequoyah High School.
Teachers were expected to see a $5,000 lump sum for the current academic year with their March 29 checks, while another $5,000 is expected to appear in teacher contracts on July 1.
“Over the past decade the state of Oklahoma has made drastic budget cuts to public education,” Baker said. “Cherokee Nation is unwavering in its commitment to public schools, students and teachers. This pay increase reaffirms that commitment and, I hope, sends a message to state leaders that they should follow Cherokee Nation’s lead and raise pay for all certified teachers in the state.”
Jon Minor, a SHS teacher and assistant coach, said the raise was important. “The Cherokee Nation has been very supportive and proactive in the opportunities provided for our students, faculty, staff and administration at Sequoyah High School. We have multiple avenues and resources that Cherokee Nation brings into our school system, that allows us to teach and do our jobs more efficiently.”
Meda Nix, a fifth grade teacher at the immersion school, has taught at the school for seven years and was excited about the raise.
“People don’t realize how hard and mentally exhausting teaching can be and that it takes a special person to come in every day and put their heart and soul into it,” Nix said. “I want to thank the chief and Tribal Council for thinking of us and taking care of us.”
She said the increase is important for teacher retention and an incentive for others interested in teaching to obtain their certifications.
The raise was part of a budget modification that passed with a 14-1 vote. Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor voted against the legislation, and Tribal Councilors Rex Jordan and Wanda Hatfield were absent.
“As you know, that wasn’t the only thing in that budget modification, and so there were just some issues with it that I wasn’t real comfortable with, and that’s why I voted no,” Taylor said.
The raise will come from the Un-appropriated Reserves Fund, which Tribal Council Financial Oversight Executive Director Jody Reece called “General Fund carryover.” To cover the raise, the immersion school’s budget increased by $110,725, while Sequoyah’s increased by $371,591.
SHS Superintendent Leroy Qualls said earlier in the day that certified teachers are paid through a step program with the Bureau of Indian Education and do not receive an annual 3 percent raise that regular CN employees receive.
“That’s not true for the teachers because they are on contract,” he said. “They get a step each year, which is 300-something dollars.”
Oklahoma ranks 48th in the U.S. in terms of teacher salaries, according to a 2016 National Education Association study. In Oklahoma the average elementary teacher makes $41,150, while high school teachers make $42,460, according to a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
Before the increase the average salary for certified teachers at the two schools was $42,815, according to CN Communications.
Earlier this year Oklahoma legislators proposed legislation to fund a $5,000 teacher pay increase, but it failed to garner the needed approval. As of publication, teachers around the state were planning a walkout on April 2 if the Legislature did not agree on funding an increase.
“We hope the state of Oklahoma looks at the Cherokee Nation as leaders in education, which they do and they should,” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said “The Legislature is in the midst of considering this at the moment, but we think the moment is now, and we think we can show some leadership. But first and foremost it’s because the teachers deserve the raise.”
Councilors also approved several trust-land projects, including approving 435 acres in Adair County and 160 acres in Sequoyah County. Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said there were “no immediate plans” for how the lands would be used.
In other business, legislators:
• Announced the groundbreaking of a casino on March 26 at the Cherokee Springs Plaza site,
• Increased the fiscal year 2018 capital budget by $1 million to $252 million, and
• Increased the FY 2018 operating budget by $5.76 million to $667.1 million.
WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. House gave final approval on March 5 to a bill that will give tribes direct access to funds that will let them quickly post Amber Alerts over text messaging, radio and television to counties within reservation borders.
The Amber Alert in Indian Country Act was sparked by the May 2016 abduction of Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old Navajo girl. Authorities did not post an alert that Ashlynne was missing until the day her body was found near Shiprock, New Mexico.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, passed the House on a voice vote Feb. 26 and now goes to the president for his signature. It is identical to a House version that was co-sponsored all nine members of the state’s congressional delegation, among others.
“There is a massive hole in the system when the only areas in the country not protected with Amber Alert access are those in tribal lands,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, lead sponsor of the House version. “By expanding already available grants to include tribes, we are ensuring Indian country communities have resources that better protect their children.”
Amber Alerts — for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response — are used to quickly spread the word about missing children. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says there are currently 144 open missing children cases in Arizona.
“We know that Amber Alerts are often critical in the safe recovery of an abducted child,” said Emily Farrell, a spokeswoman for the center. “The Amber Alert in Indian Country Act of 2017 will help improve and lead to the expansion of the Amber Alert system on Native American reservations.”
Until now, tribal law enforcement agencies had to work through state and local police agencies to get an alert posted. The bill passed Feb. 26 would give funding directly to tribes to help them improve their technology and post alerts on their own.
The bill would provide 573 tribes with funding that Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said the tribes “ need to secure and protect their children in the unfortunate event that they go missing.”
“By creating tribal Amber Alert systems and integrating them with existing state systems, we’re renewing our commitment to the communities of Indian Country to ensure that their children are protected,” Grijalva said in a statement Feb. 26.
Virginia Davis, a senior policy adviser for the National Congress of American Indians, called it another example of tribes suffering because they do not have a seat at the table.
“What we see across the board in public safety legislation is that tribes aren’t really included upfront in the decision making, so years later we have to go back and rectify policies that end up not working for us,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, this is one of many examples where we are forced to advocate for our voice in legislation that should have included us from the start.”
She welcomed the bill’s requirement for reports to Congress, saying they will let federal lawmakers “understand exactly what safety barriers tribes are facing.”
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said the bill is just the beginning of improving public safety on tribal lands.
“Increasing the tribes’ access to funding and support is the first step, but we need to be able to assess what other safety barriers there are so we can fix them and make this new system really work,” Gosar said in a prepared statement.
Davis said the change is long overdue.
“Indian tribes shouldn’t be an afterthought to Congress when they are passing these national public safety laws,” she said. “They should be included right there on the front lines, in a direct manner than can help each of their unique circumstances.”