The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council on Monday night repealed its Sunshine Ethics Act and its amendments, replacing it with The Cherokee Nation Ethics Act of 2012.
The measure passed 10-5, with two abstentions, but not before a heated discussion took place.
Councilor Julia Coates said she believes the new act, which excludes first-degree relative disclosure in “individual employment contracts,” favors some citizens, while alienates others.
“I voted against this in committee,” said Coates. “It was presented as not being substantially changed from what we had before, but in fact, it is. It seems to favor some council members who have relatives who are contractors, and penalizes others. It seems unfair, and I cannot support it.”
Councilor Cara Cowan-Watts said thinks the new legislation fails to promote transparency.
“If this legislation were truly the call for transparency, it is not doing so,” said Cowan-Watts. “When you start looking at the size of our community, there are relationships that could impact other business dealings that could be perceived as a conflict of interest. We’re going to replace it to hide first-degree relatives who are contractors and subcontractors sitting in the chief’s office. There are a large number of employees, first-degree relatives, working at the housing authority. We have other officials working for the [United Keetoowah Band] on contract. If there is a potential conflict, it should be disclosed in writing and made available for all to see. There’s a very fine line, and they’re basing the change on this, to hide their actions and their relatives.”
Cowan-Watts asked Speaker of the Council Tina Glory-Jordan if abstentions would be forced for those who have first-degree relatives working for the tribe. Glory-Jordan asked Watts who she believes, on the council, presents an issue.
“For starters, Councilwoman Fullbright’s daughter is working in the chief’s office, should [Fullbright] abstain?”
Fullbright explained her daughter had completed an internship under Kalyn Free while in law school, but had since graduated, passed the bar exam and is now working for the tribe as a regular employee.
Talk of quizzing each councilor about potential conflicts ensued, with Cowan-Watts accusing Glory-Jordan of not responding to FOIA requests asking about relatives and potential conflicts within the council.
“I do not respond to FOIA requests on this,” said Glory-Jordan. “FOIA requests are submitted to the administration. So, no, I will not respond.”
Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk, one of three sponsors of the legislation, said the law mirrors that of other tribes.
“We polled other large tribes, and it’s consistent with their practices and what the constitution requires,” said Fishinghawk.
Cowan-Watts and Councilor Buel Anglen abstained from voting; Lee Keener, Jack Baker, Julia Coates, Meredith Frailey and Don Garvin voted against the measure.
In other business, the council confirmed the nomination of Dawnena Mackey as a board member of Cherokee Nation Community Association Corporation.
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