AG opinion: Councilor wrongly barred Phoenix video
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In a Nov. 18 opinion, the tribe’s Attorney General’s Office stated Council Speaker Meredith Frailey wrongly denied the Cherokee Phoenix video coverage of a June public forum concerning the tribe’s planned takeover of W.W. Hastings Indians Hospital.
“The Cherokee Nation Freedom of Information and Right of Privacy Act of 2001 provides members of the public and the press with a statutory right to make sonic recordings at open meetings,” the opinion states. “Government employees and officials do not have the authority to restrict the tribal newspaper staff from making a video recording of a public meeting or forum unless the restriction is reasonable, narrowly tailored, advances a substantial government interest and does not obstruct other alternative forms of communication.”
Cherokee Phoenix staffer Craig Henry said Frailey told him he was not allowed to video record a June 26 public forum where tribal health officials, administration cabinet members and councilors answered questions from the public and discussed Cherokee Nation’s planned assumption of Hastings.
He said before the event Frailey asked CN Communications Officer Mike Miller and CN Leadership Group Leader Todd Enlow if they had set up the camera.
“They told her no, so she turned to me and said I had to take it down,” Henry said. “She told me they (she and forum co-sponsor Councilor Bradley Cobb) were not allowing anyone to record the meeting. She said they were afraid people would be reluctant to speak if there were cameras.”
Henry also said Frailey told him several other media outlets had inquired about video access and that they were denied.
“We considered this a public forum, and it was called primarily for the benefit of W.W. Hastings employees so they could learn and discuss freely the topics concerning the future of Hastings hospital,” Frailey said. “We felt that video taping such an event would have a rather chilling effect on the free flow of ideas and communications concerning the issues that arose.”
However, according to the opinion, “Members of the public may be unable, due to work or family commitments, to attend the forum on the date and time prescribed. Having a recording of the event available to the public allows a larger number of citizens to benefit from the public discourse. Many of the questions asked by members of the public at the forum may be questions of interest to all of the citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”
Jami Custer, the staff writer who covered the forum, said no audience comments were made during or after the officials’ presentation and that audience members wrote questions on paper and put them into a box.
The questions were later read by Cobb, who allowed officials to answer. She added that the only audience member who spoke during the forum did so to reiterate a question he wrote for the panel to answer.
Frailey said the forum’s original plan called for allowing public comments, but because the forum ran long, Cobb, who moderated the event, didn’t open it up for comments.
The two councilors sponsored the forum so the tribe’s negotiation team could publicly present an overview of the proceedings with Indian Health Service about the planned Hastings takeover from the IHS.
Secretary of State Melanie Knight said Cobb and Frailey were two of the four councilors designated by the council’s Health Committee who attended the negotiations.