Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

August 20, 2012

Chief reverses decision to veto exclusionary hiring measure

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker on Friday backed away from his earlier vow to veto an act mandating certain tribal administrative positions be filled by Cherokee citizens.

Last Monday, the tribal council passed, by a 9-8 vote, a measure requiring the chief’s chief of staff, general counsel, director of communications, director of government relations and CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses be card-carrying Cherokees. Prior to the vote, CN Attorney General Todd Hembree issued an opinion that the legislation is unconstitutional, as it usurps the chief’s executive powers.

On Wednesday, Baker released a statement vowing to veto the legislation, as he was sworn to uphold the constitution. But on Friday, Baker said he “sees no reason to sign it or veto it.” His decision could kick the ball into the tribal court, if Hembree or others choose to pursue it.

“As the legislation passed requiring specific hires by the office of the chief is unconstitutional as determined by the nation’s attorney general, I see no reason to sign it or veto it,” said Baker in his statement. “If the council cares to challenge the separation of powers and work to diminish the stature and independence of the executive branch, then courts are the proper recourse.”

Shortly after his election, Baker hired Choctaw citizen Kalyn Free as his general counsel, and Jim Gray, former chief of the Osage Nation, as director of both communications and government relations. Following CNB CEO David Stewart’s departure from his post, Shawn Slaton, a non-Indian, was appointed to serve as interim CEO. Chuck Hoskin Sr., a Cherokee, is chief of staff.

Baker said hiring Cherokees is always the goal, and that since taking office, nearly 300 Cherokees have been hired.

“But we will also hire others when that means our nation further succeeds and many more jobs are created,” said Baker. “This fight is not one I requested or welcome. This has become a diversion and a distraction, and to help put everyone back on focus of moving our nation forward, Kalyn Free has asked to relinquish her title as my general counsel. Kalyn is a trusted adviser who works tirelessly to advance our nation.”

Baker said while he will continue to seek Free’s advice, she will no longer carry the title of general counsel.

In a memo to tribal counselors, Baker on Thursday announced Amanda Clinton would assume the post of CN communications director, relieving Gray of half of his duties.

Clinton, a Cherokee citizen, has worked since 2005 in the communications department of CNB, and has been director of communications for the past year.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be taking on these new responsibilities,” said Clinton.

“I was born at Hastings Hospital, attended Cherokee Nation Head Start and graduated from Kenwood and Locust Grove Schools. The Cherokee Nation has always been such a huge part of my life, and that’s never been more true than now. The Cherokee Nation has so many wonderful things going on, and being trusted to tell the stories of my tribe is such a great honor. The opportunities ahead are endless, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Clinton earns undergraduate and graduate degrees from Oklahoma State University and previously worked in television before coming to CNB.

Gray’s contract as director of government relations is set to expire in November, and Baker said both positions – communications and government relations – were temporary when Gray was hired.

“First off, when I came on board to work for Chief Baker, it was understood my job was temporary,” said Gray.

“[Hiring Clinton] isn’t anything unexpected. So, in my short-term assignment at the Cherokee Nation, we’re evaluating the different aspects of the government relations job, and questions of my replacement haven’t been addressed yet, because we’re still evaluating the official functions of the office. By default, I’m running [government relations], but with an eye to reforming it.”

Gray said he expects to serve in the government relations post until his contract expires.

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