Councilors reimplement Whistleblower Act

BY STACIE BOSTON
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
08/17/2016 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor reads a resolution during the Aug. 15 Tribal Council meeting in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. STACIE GUTHRIE/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At their Aug. 15 meeting, Tribal Councilors passed a new Whistleblower Protection Act after learning earlier this year it was repealed in 2012.

The act is to protect employees from “retaliatory action” when participating in “protected activities” such as reporting alleged wrongdoing of a co-worker, supervisor or elected official.

The vote passed unanimously with Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield absent.

During the July 12 Rules Committee meeting, Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said the act would replace the one that legislators repealed in 2012.

“When the Ethics Act was amended in, I believe, 2012 it was included in the language… this repeals Title 28. When you repeal a title you repeal all of the title,” she said. “No one caught that at the time that the Ethics Act was passed…It should have said it repeals this section of Title 28, but what it said was it repeals Title 28. When the new Ethics Act was passed…it took out the whistleblower language.”

Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen said as soon as he heard the Whistleblower Act was no longer in place he and others worked to reinstate it.

“Of course that opened my eyes up when I found out that there was that one case where we found out that the Whistleblower Act was not in effect anymore and that it had been taken out,” Anglen said. “So I asked some of the council people that were on it when it came out, why did that happen, and none of them knew anything about it. It was kind of worded in there to where it didn’t look like anything had changed, eliminated…So we just jumped right on it to get it back in once we found that out.

“(Tribal Councilor) Dick Lay and I took the charge on it,” he added. “We got it back in, and I think now the employees can feel comfortable again. If something’s going on, they speak up and not have to worry about losing their job or anything else.”

Nimmo said new language states “protected activity does not include false information provided by the employee.” Nimmo said what this means is that the employee’s allegations have to be “true.”

“What we intended by putting this language in is saying that what they report has to be true. So it keeps an employee from making up something,” she said. “The way that this is written, also in the burden of proof, that if an employee made up false information and they were terminated for that and they filed a claim under the Whistleblower Act in District Court of the (Cherokee) Nation, which would be the AG’s office defending the Nation, could prove that the information that they shared was false and they knew that it was false then they don’t get their job back, they don’t get back pay and they’re not protected under the Whistleblower Act because the Whistleblower Act is intended to protect employees who make a good-faith effort to shed light on possible wrongdoing by the government.”

Also at the Aug. 15 meeting, legislators transferred tribally owned trust lands to mutual-help home participants. According to legislation, the tribe acquired Delaware County land in 1937 and 1938 from the United States. The tribe later set aside certain areas within that land to be leased “for the construction of Mutual-Help Homes.”

The legislation states within portions of this trust land the tribe “established multiple housing Subdivisions” and “desires to transfer the following Mutual Help-Home sites to the participants in Trust.”

The legislation lists Peggy Wagnon, Jerry and Velma Tagg, Molly Sapp, Stanley and Amy Proctor and Roxanne and Cordell Smith as the participants of the project, which will be in Kenwood.

Legislators also authorized the tribe to lease trust land to the CC Camp Community Organization.

According to legislation, the land is 26.48 acres in Adair County located on Hwy 59 that encompasses the Cherry Tree Red Gym and softball fields. The legislation states the organization will lease the land from the tribe for $1 a year for 25 years beginning this year.

Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said leasing “this property to the organization will only lead to more community events and create a tighter bond between Cherokee families.”

In other business, legislators:

• Reconfirmed Susan Chapman Plumb to the Cherokee Nation Foundation board and Jeff Limore to Sequoyah High School board of education, and

• Authorized a grant of easement for right-of-way to the Adair County commissioners for the reconstruction of a bridge in the Lyons Switch community.

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