Freedom of Information Act Passes

Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan, left, motions to table amendments to the tribe’s Freedom Of Information and Governmental Record acts during a special Rules Committee meeting on April 24. The committee agreed to create a work group to examine costs associated with FOIA and GRA requests. JAMI MURPHY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Tribal Councilor Tina Glory Jordan, left, motions to table amendments to the tribe’s Freedom Of Information and Governmental Record acts during a special Rules Committee meeting on April 24. The committee agreed to create a work group to examine costs associated with FOIA and GRA requests. JAMI MURPHY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

The amended Freedom of Information Act passed in council on June 16th with a vote of 10-6 and the GRA passed 14-2. The new law turned out to be very different from the original proposed version introduced in the rules committee on April 24th.

Views from tribal officials clash with each other over this issue. One Tribal Councilor says that the major threats to the FOIA were eliminated with the help of protesting citizens, but the Councilor still rejected the new law and voted against it. Another Tribal Councilor asserted that new exemptions would create huge loopholes and deny citizens access to certain documents. On the other hand, the Attorney General accused these councilors and others of grandstanding and called the whole situation a manufactured crisis. Also, other councilors agreed with Chief Baker and go on record as saying the new law creates more transparency and openness.

The Cherokee Phoenix Article by Tesina Jackson (listed in sidebar) offers a summary of the council meeting with interesting comments:

  • Joey Senat says, “It costs too much and there’s an increase? Well God forbid that the public actually put into effect the statute that says they have a right to know. That’s the purpose of these statutes and people should put them into effect and make requests. That’s why they’re there.”
  • Todd Hembree says his staff has been overwhelmed by an increase of requests that come from a select group of people
  • “When a tribe doesn’t have a freedom of information law, it’s extremely tough for journalists and the public” says Kevin R. Kemper.

The article from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press highlights some events and comments:

  • Will Chavez, senior reporter for the Cherokee Phoenix, says he was denied access to the council meeting.
  • “If there’s anything that really ought to be scrutinized, it’s money coming and going within the tribe, and that’s always the case when you’re doing FOI work.” — John Shurr.
  • Cara Cowen Watts says the new amendment still diminishes the rights of the public.

Overall, the two sides in the council, with their supporters, stand in strong disagreement over the intention behind the new law’s passage and the eventual effect of the new amendments.

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