Heated discussion takes place in Rules Committee meeting
TAHLEQUAH – During its Feb. 28 meeting, the Tribal Council’s Rules Committee briefly discussed the possibility of a constitutional convention referendum. However, that item was overshadowed by an argument between Dist. 3 Councilor David Walkingstick and Dist. 15 Councilor Janees Taylor during the attorney general’s report.
Walkingstick asked Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo about particulars of the tribe’s Ethics Act that concern the prohibition of immediate family members of elected officials contracting with the Cherokee Nation.
WALKINGSTICK: “There’s some sitting members right here that immediate family have contracts with the Cherokee Nation, and I don’t know if they’re employment or whatever, but….”
NIMMO: “They shouldn’t, unless they’re employees.”
WALKINGSTICK: “We got Councilor Taylor’s husband rents….”
NIMMO: “He’s an appointed official.”
WALKINGSTICK: “Well, I wasn’t gonna go there; his….”
TAYLOR: “Where were you gonna go?”
WALKINGSTICK: “He has property he rents to Cherokee Nation Career Services.”
TAYLOR: “Where is that?”
WALKINGSTICK: “In Pryor.”
TAYLOR: “You are incorrect, sir. You need to check out your information before you go making accusations in a public meeting.”
As the exchange continued, Council Speaker Joe Byrd suggested entering into executive session to discuss personnel, and a vote was taken, which passed 14-3.
Attorney General Todd Hembree reportedly asked Byrd whether he was certain he wanted to take that step, to which Byrd replied in the affirmative.
According to the tribe’s Freedom of Information Act, a public body may hold a meeting closed for personnel reasons for discussion of “employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, or release of an employee, a student, or a person regulated by or the appointment of a person to a public body…”
Taylor’s husband, Brent Taylor, is a Cherokee Nation Business board member.
According to Mayes County Assessor officials, the land the Career Services building in Pryor sits on is owned by Rex Alexander Enterprises. The company bought the property in 2002, county officials said.
When the Tribal Council emerged from executive session, there was no mention of the altercation, and Byrd announced that no votes or actions were taken during executive session, and the meeting proceeded.
Once reports were complete, At-Large Councilor Mary Baker Shaw opened a non-binding discussion on a resolution to ask CN voters whether to call a constitutional convention.
Under CN law, citizens are to be offered a ballot question every 20 years on whether to call a constitutional convention. Shaw and Council attorney Tahlina Blakestad said that some ambiguity in the language might allow the 20 years to begin with the balloting, when the previous convention was held, the ratification or the date a new constitution goes into effect. The current constitution was called for in 1995. A constitutional convention was held in 1999. The current constitution was ratified in 2003 and went into effect in 2006.
Shaw, referring to a memo from the attorney general’s office, said she believed the ratification should serve as the reset for the 20 years, and suggested the next ballot question allowing a constitutional convention appear in 2023.
However, Dist. 8 Councilor Shawn Crittenden argued his belief that the question should be asked every 20 years as it was in 1995, and that “we are four years behind.”
Byrd observed that not all councilors had a copy of the memo, and Shaw motioned to have discussion tabled until copies were delivered to every councilor. The committee voted to resume the discussion at its meeting at 1 p.m. on March 28.