Tribal Council amends election code
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Tribal Council unanimously amended the Cherokee Nation’s election law during its May 16 meeting after removing the definition of “term” as a full four years when pertaining to an elected office.
Previously, the Rules Committee added the definition to Legislative Act 04-14 to further define “term” within the CN Constitution. However, during the May 16 meeting, Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez, who sponsored the act, introduced it with an amendment.
“I have one small change. We will be striking the definition of ‘term’ in its entirety,” she said.
Tribal Councilor Jack Baker seconded the motion before the body voted by acclamation.
After the meeting, Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor told the Cherokee Phoenix that the legislation’s intent was to make tribal elections run more smoothly.
“Changes needed to be made to avoid issues that have come up in past elections such as a candidate raising funds and campaigning then not filing for office. There were some very good changes made with this act, and it was important for this council to work through the details until we reached a solution we could all live with. In the end, the only issue we could not agree on was the definition of ‘term.’ It speaks to the integrity of this council that we were able to work together to find a solution that we all could agree on and I am pleased that it passed unanimously,” she said.
Tribal Councilor Dick Lay, who opposed defining term as “a full four years,” said he was happy the definition was removed from the legislation. “Council can now move forward to important issues on behalf of Cherokee citizens.”
Vazquez deferred comments to Attorney General Todd Hembree, who said he believes several necessary changes were made to the election law with the amendment.
“I’m proud of the collaboration between the council, the Election Commission and the AG’s office making these amendments happen,” he said.
Regarding the “term” definition being pulled from the amendment, Hembree said the Tribal Council did not define what constitutes a complete term, but left that interpretation up to the plain reading of the Constitution.
In March, the Rules Committee discussed the word “term” in the Constitution, and Hembree said that “term” was not defined within the election law. “Nowhere during the election law have we ever defined what a term of office is.”
The committee then voted to define “term” as “consecutive full four (4) years in which the elective or appointed officer may perform the functions of office and enjoy its privileges, a term shall not include the remainder of any unexpired term or partial year.”
However, after debate during the April 12 Tribal Council meeting, legislators sent back the act to the Rules Committee for review. The committee again approved the “term” definition with a 9-6-1 vote until May 16 when it was pulled from the amendment.
Also with the election law change, Tribal Councilors moved the general election from the fourth Saturday in June of the election year to the first Saturday to allow the Election Commission more time to for election matters. They also defined the term “candidate” as a person who has raised funds and/or accepted in-kind contributions in excess of $1,000 or has filed for office.
With this change, one can be considered a candidate before actually filing for an elected position.
Other changes included a new section for record retention and assessing a civil penalty for a person who has become a candidate and fails to file as one.
Also at the May 16 meeting, the Tribal Council approved Pamela Sellers as the EC’s fifth member. Sellers took her oath during the meeting with Supreme Court Justice John Garrett presiding.
The body also approved Valerie Rogers to the Home Health Services board and the Comprehensive Care Agency or PACE board.
Councilors also approved nine donations of surplus equipment to various organizations within the CN.
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation honored U.S. Army and Navy veterans with the tribe’s Medal of Patriotism during the March 12 Tribal Council meeting.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden acknowledged Fields Smith, 84, of Vian, and Kenneth Golden, 68, of Stilwell, for their service to the country.
Sgt. Smith was born in 1933 and drafted into the Army in 1955. He completed basic training at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas and trained to become an infantryman. Later, he completed Fire Directing Control School and was sent to Fort Polk in Louisiana where he spent the remainder of his two-year service term. During his service, Smith completed non-commission school and received a sharpshooter medal for his rifle skills. Smith received an honorable discharge in 1957.
“I want to thank the Chief, the Deputy Chief and the Tribal Council for all of the good work that they do for our people,” Smith said.
Sgt. Golden was born in 1949 and enlisted in the Navy in 1968. Golden completed basic training in Chicago. After basic training, he was transferred to the Naval Air Station Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida, where he served as an aviation boatman mate. During his service, Golden was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and received an honorable discharge in 1972.
Each month the CN recognizes Cherokee service men and women for their sacrifices and as a way to demonstrate the high regard in which the tribe holds all veterans.
To nominate a veteran who is a CN citizen, call 918-772-4166.
TAHLEQUAH – During its Feb. 12 meeting, the Tribal Council unanimously authorized a lease with Oklahoma State University’s Center for Health Sciences to put a medical school in the current W.W. Hastings Hospital after the new Outpatient Health Center opens.
“Cherokee Nation is joining with Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, an entity within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, to bring health care education to W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah,” the resolution states.
The lease will encompass part of Hastings’ floor space and parking space.
Earlier in the day during the Resources Committee meeting, Dr. Charles Grim, Health Services interim executive director, said the leased portion would be located where the current physical therapy, diabetes, orthopedics and optometry locations are. Those departments will move to the new primary health care facility, which is expected to be finished in 2019.
Grim said because OSU is a state university the medical school would not have a Native American preference. However, he said the architecture within the remodeled facility for the school would highlight Cherokee culture. He also said officials would ask Indian Health Service to set aside scholarships and/or loan repayment for Native students wishing to attend the school.
“Its not really an Indian medical school per se, but it will be the first college of medicine campus on Indian land in the country,” Grim said.
Grim said the lease would be for seven years with the option to renew.
In other business, Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton told Tribal Councilors that CNB is preparing to break ground on April 1 on additional “projects” in the Cherokee Springs Plaza in Tahlequah.
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.
CNB has not confirmed a completion date as of publication.
• amended the Concurrent Enrollment Scholarship Act of 2011 to revise the eligibility requirements,
• reappointed T. Luke Barteaux as a District Court judge,
• confirmed Dr. Charles Grim as a Cherokee Nation Health Partners board member,
• authorized the Vocational Rehabilitation Program to donate surplus equipment to the United Wrestling Entertainment Foundation in Cherokee County.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Dec. 11 passed an act that establishes the Cherokee Nation Sovereign Wealth Fund, a fund that is expected to “ensure the continuation of tribal operations and the general welfare of tribal citizens for future generations.”
Tribal Councilor Dick Lay spoke about the act’s importance during the Nov. 14 Rules Committee.
“So the idea was to take a small amount of funding from the businesses, set it aside for just extreme financial emergencies, and I think (Treasurer) Lacey (Horn) and her group have been working along the same lines, so we’re going to try and get those together,” Lay said.
Horn said creating a “permanent fund” was something she had wanted to do, and after working on Lay’s model with Controller Jamie Cole and Assistant Attorney General Chad Harsha they created an act to bring before Council.
“This act establishes a wealth fund, which shall be held by the treasurer in accordance with the act, and assets shall be maintained in an interest-bearing account or otherwise invested to promote growth of the fund's assets,” she said.
Within the fund, Horn said, there would be an Emergency Reserve Fund that would “receive a direct and continuing appropriation.”
“The Emergency Reserve Fund that receives the direct and continuing appropriation of 2 percent of the net income of our dividend-paying corporations as well as not less than 50 percent of funds received by the Cherokee Nation through judgment or settlement of legal claims,” she said. “That’s not to say that we couldn’t put 90 percent. That’s not to say that we couldn’t put some percent higher, but it’s just sort of setting that floor as to what’s going to go into this fund.”
The Motor Fuel Education Trust would also be moved to the new fund, which Horn confirmed would be an added “safety” measure.
“It had previously been collateralized in an interest-bearing CD that was used to borrow funds to build the Vinita (Health) Clinic, and that collateralization was removed whenever we entered into the loan with Bank of Oklahoma for the Tahlequah Joint Venture Project, and so these funds are…free and clear,” she said. “So this will take that fund, put that within the construct of the Cherokee Nation Sovereign Wealth Fund and allow us to invest that fund and continue to grow it.”
Horn said the fund could also have endowments, trusts or other funds incorporated within it periodically. “There’s often endowments, trusts that we receive from individuals that need to be invested for income-generating purposes, and this would be the perfect place to put (those) up underneath as well.”
Horn said all assets for the fund would be “reported and accounted” for separately and would support itself by not relying on any General Fund dollars.
“Expenses incurred and maintenance invested in the fund shall be paid for by the fund. So we won’t be utilizing any General Fund dollars to operate this fund it will be self-sustaining,” she said.
When it comes to distributing the fund’s money, there must be approval from two-thirds of the Tribal Council as well as the principal chief. According to the act, “a distribution from the Reserve Fund may only be made in the event that a financial emergency exists, the severity of which threatens the life, property or financial stability of the Nation.”
Also, according to the act, “a distribution from the Education Trust may only be made to satisfy a substantial need in higher education scholarships resulting from an unexpected funding loss or shortfall and distributions from all endowments, trusts or other funds held in the fund shall be made in accordance with any originating document or restriction applicable thereto, and subject to the appropriation laws of the Cherokee Nation.”
The act also notes that the fund “may not be used to finance or influence political activities.”
“I hope that you can see that we feel very strongly, very happy about this legislation that we put forward, and we hope the Tribal Council feels the same,” Horn said.
Councilors also passed an act relating to the adjustment of dividends known as the Corporation Emergency Dividend Reserve Fund Act, which is included within the Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Lay presented the act during the Oct. 26 Rules Committee meeting where he said it’s not an “original” idea but one that should be implemented as an “emergency fund.”
“It would cause the chief and the super majority of council to bring funding out of it to be used only for abject financial emergencies,” he said.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker was pleased to sign the Sovereign Wealth Fund into law.
“The idea of permanent fund was something we discussed within the administration several years ago. Having reached a number of major policy and legislative goals during the past six years, the time was right to focus our attention on this important safety net. I was pleased to sign this important act into law before year’s end, and appreciate the collaborative effort of my team and members of the Council in achieving this goal.”
According to the act, for-profit corporations that the tribe is the “sole or majority shareholder” and are under CN law “shall issue a monthly cash dividend in the amount of 30 percent” from a “special quarterly dividend” they “deem” appropriate. An additional 5 percent is set aside for Contract Health services for citizens. According to the act, another 2 percent would “be set aside exclusively for an unanticipated and extraordinary revenue or funding loss that creates a budget shortfall where appropriation from any other source would be unavailable.”
To view the Sovereign Wealth Fund Act, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/12/11828__WealthFund.pdf" target="_blank">click here</a>.
To view the Corporation Emergency Dividend Reserve Fund Act, <a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2017/12/11828__Dividends.pdf" target="_blank">click here</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With 18 years of experience serving the Cherokee people, Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd looks forward to serving another four years as the representative for Dist. 2, which consists of most of northern Cherokee County.
“I love serving the Cherokee people. They’ve got somebody that’s going to work for them again for the next four years, and I’m really looking forward to that,” said Byrd.
Originally from Belfonte/Nicut, Byrd was the youngest Cherokee Nation legislator to be elected. He served on the Tribal Council from 1987-95, followed by term as principal chief from 1995-99. In January 2012, he won a special election to replace Bill John Baker on the Tribal Council. Baker had taken office as the principal chief on Oct. 19, 2011, after a contentious and lengthy principal chief’s race against incumbent Chad Smith.
In 2013, Byrd was re-elected to serve his first full term under the tribe’s 1999 Constitution, which limits elected officials to two consecutive four-year terms before having to sit out a term. He was also named speaker of the Tribal Council in 2015 after then-Speaker Tina Glory Jordan termed out.
When he first ran for office in 1987, Byrd said he felt the need to help the Cherokee people with the issues they were facing.
“Our government didn’t begin serving our people until the 1970s. When I first moved to Northeastern (State University) in 1972 to get an education, it really opened my eyes to a lot of the issues our people were facing,” he said. “In the rural areas there were a lot of people who weren’t self-efficient, and I saw right then we still had many people out in the rural areas that needed help and needed an awareness that there is a tribe out there that should have a responsibility to take care of our people.”
As for his current term, deciding to run again for the Dist. 2 seat was an easy decision, he said, because of his love for serving the Cherokee people and because of his constituents who asked him to continue.
He spoke of elderly women who continues to set an example of how his constituents have not forgotten their Cherokee culture or who they are as a people.
“When people like that come up to me and ask me to run, it’s a real honor to have people with that kind of stature to say, ‘you need to run another time,’” he said. “The people will let you know when it’s time to run. You don’t have to consult them, they’ll let you know.”
During his time as Dist. 2 representative, Byrd has helped with projects to improve services for CN citizens, including the passing of a $900 million budget, a $100 million investment in Cherokee health care as well as a $200 million dollar expansion of the W.W. Hastings Hospital.
For this term, Byrd said he would continue working with the tribe to ensure rural area schools have shelter for inclement weather and that elders and veterans are taken care of.
“Our veterans seem to not be taken care of like they should,” he said. “When we give speeches and talks we all say, ‘we respect our elder’s and we respect our veterans,’ but we have many that are still homeless and not being served. I want to do anything I can to assist in making sure our elders and veterans are taken care of.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Harley Buzzard is beginning his third Tribal Council term. It’s his second for Dist. 10, which consists of northern Delaware County and parts of Ottawa and Mayes counties. Prior to that he served from 2007-11 for the former Dist. 2, which consisted of Delaware County and part of Ottawa County.
Buzzard worked for the Cherokee Nation for 24 years before running for Tribal Council in 2007. After a term serving Dist. 2, he was elected for Dist. 10 in 2013. He ran again this year because he said there was more he could help improve such as agriculture, sanitation and education. “There was just some things I felt I wanted to be involved with, see if I could help get it done.”
He said he’s stressed agriculture’s importance with the hope that Cherokee children would learn how to grow their food. “Now we’re just eating fast foods and pre-cooked meals and things like that, and our children don’t know about gardening. I’d like to get it to the point where we could raise enough to supply all our families that want those fresh vegetables, but also on a commercial basis too (by) putting it into our casinos and stuff like that.”
Buzzard said he would also like to see improvements with roads and water lines in his district.
He said he has much experience with water and sanitation engineering and that he sees a lot of Cherokee families that do not have inside plumbing and water. A water line extension for rural water is something he would like to work on, he said.
He said road conditions in his district’s rural areas are also a problem, as school buses contend with rough gravel roads or washed out roads during floods.
“Kids have to ride the school bus to school, and a lot of them have to travel over these gravel roads and roads that don’t have bridges (and) washed out roads when they have floods. Those things are important to me also,” Buzzard said.
As for education, he said school funding in Oklahoma is decreasing and he, along with the rest of the CN legislators, would like to help fund school programs for students in the CN jurisdiction.
Buzzard said his district covers a larger area, and he does what he can in terms of allocating monies he receives via the Tribal Council to help fund needs and programs such as law enforcement and roads.
“Money is spread pretty thin in my district as far as trying to help (law) enforcement and road issues,” he said. “I don’t know what I could do other than put the money where it’s most needed. That’s how I base where the funding goes, is where the need is…you can’t go wrong by doing that, using that philosophy.”
Buzzard said he’s “happy” about the support he received this past election and surmises he “must be doing something right.”
“A lot of people come up and tell that they’re happy that I got re-elected. It’s always good to have people tell you that. Sometimes you wonder, ‘am I doing a good job for my citizens that live here?’ When they tell me that and vote for me by that majority, it means that I’m doing something right,” he said.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Frankie Hargis looks to serve the Cherokee people of Dist. 7 for another term after being re-elected in June. Hargis was initially elected on Dec. 2, 2011, to replace S. Joe Crittenden, who resigned after being elected deputy chief. She served her first full term after being elected in 2013.
“I chose to run for re-election because I have enjoyed serving the Cherokee people. There are projects that I want to see completed, and there is still work to be done.” She said.
Raised in Stillwell, Hargis graduated from Stilwell High School and then from Northeastern Sate University with a bachelor’s degree in education. She has worked for the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Enterprises in several capacities.
“I was raised in Adair County, raised my children here and want only the best for Cherokees in this district. We have made great strides in several areas, including health care, education and housing,” she said.
Before taking a seat on the Tribal Council, Hargis had never planned to run for tribal office. However, when she saw that the people of Adair County needed someone to be a voice she made the decision to “step up” and be that voice.
“I saw a need, and I knew it was not right to sit back and hope someone else would take care of things,” Hargis said. “I was taught the importance of caring for others and that the right thing to do when you see a need is to step up and do what you can.”
During her time as a legislator, she has worked with the Tribal Council to complete projects to improve the well-being of Dist. 7 and its constituents, including getting $80,000 to establish a shelter in Stilwell for survivors of domestic violence, $4.2 million to build a new child development center in Stilwell, $11 million for the expansion of the Wilma P. Mankiller Clinic as well as $1 million for roads and bridges in Adair County.
Hargis said for this term she would continue to support the Cherokee people as she always has, but with one major goal in mind.
“I will continue to support health care, education, job development and housing,” she said. “One goal I do have is for the Housing Authority (of the Cherokee Nation) to build a housing addition in Adair County in the near future for those citizens who are on the New Home Construction Program list but do not have their own land.”
She added that she is honored to serve a second term. “It is my opinion, we should always consider it an honor to serve others. I count it a blessing to continue as District 7 Tribal Council representative.”