The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of amendments to strengthen and improve the Freedom of Information Act and Government Records Act in a Tribal Council committee meeting on Wednesday, May 28. Amendments to the Freedom of Information Act passed the council 14-3, and amendments to the Government Records Act passed 13-4.
“The Cherokee Nation has long been a leader in transparency and openness of information. We were the first tribe to pass open meeting, sunshine and freedom of information laws,” said Tina Glory-Jordan, Speaker of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. “These laws have been reviewed, revised and strengthened every few years, and today, we introduced more revisions to do just that: strengthen the laws and increase citizen access to information about their tribe.”
As the tribe and its businesses have grown, requests for information have increased, leading to a greater workload for Cherokee Nation employees accommodating those requests.
“One of the greatest improvements to FOIA and GRA laws is the creation of a dedicated officer to research and respond to such requests,” Glory-Jordan said. “Previously, individual department heads were charged with finding the requested information, often taking up valuable work time and distracting from daily duties. The amendments approved in today’s committee meeting mean Cherokee citizens can be assured their request receives the full and focused attention of the individual fulfilling that request.”
The legislation approved by committee vote today was crafted by a work group comprised of tribal councilors with input from regular users of the law, including the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix and others.
“I could not be more proud of the way this group worked together and made recommendations that were best for the Cherokee people. Despite members expressing opposing views from time to time, each of us has the well-being and will of our constituents at heart. Because of that, we were able to come to unanimous consensus amicably and with full confidence in our recommendations,” Glory-Jordan said. “Each member of the workgroup agreed that this legislation did not weaken, but strengthened the FOIA and GRA laws, and made the process more user-friendly.”
Other amendments include extending response time to a uniform 20 days for both FOIA and GRA. The change allows information to be thoroughly researched and vetted by the proposed information officer. Previously, the response deadline for FOIA was 15 days and six days for GRA. FOIA requests may be filed by any Cherokee citizen, while GRA requests are reserved for tribal elected officials.
“As an elected official of the Cherokee Nation, I value the concerns our citizens have shown in regard to these particular laws and amendments,” said Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard. “I truly believe we passed legislation that will strengthen the existing laws and improve the process for our people.”
Another significant change aims to increase privacy protections for Cherokee citizens who may be subjects of FOIA. The amendments would keep dates of birth, social security numbers and other personal and sensitive information private.
“We’ve all witnessed the uptick in invasion of privacy and stolen personal information in the last few years, and it is a real and imminent concern for folks. Increased individual privacy has never been more important than it is today, and there is no sign threats to privacy will end anytime soon,” said Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Victoria Mitchell-Vazquez. “At least the Cherokee Nation can say we are doing all we can to protect personal information, ensuring citizens if information is requested about services they have applied for or received, no one will be able to obtain their private and sensitive information.”
The legislation now goes before the Tribal Council at their regular monthly meeting slated for 6 p.m., Monday, June 16, at the Cherokee Nation Tribal Complex in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. If the council affirms their votes from today’s committee meeting, the law is sent to the Principal Chief’s office for his signature.
“We’re confident these amendments will be well received by the public, just as all the previous amendments over the years have been,” said Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk. “Overall, these amendments strengthen the laws, increase transparency and provide citizens better and more reliable information, and we are very proud of the product we hope to present to Chief Baker next month.”