COMMENTARY: Keep the information flowing

by Sep 6, 2018OPINIONS





Tribal Code defines what is and isn’t public information. The purpose of the law is important.

“The Tribe finds that it is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner. Toward this end, provisions of this Article must be construed so as to make it possible for members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, or their representatives, to have access to public records at a minimum cost and with minimum delay to the persons seeking access.”

It continues: “Members and their representatives have a right to know the basis of the formulation of public policy. Therefore, it is the public policy of this Tribe that members shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity.”

Newspapers, including the One Feather, serve as a fourth estate, one designed to hold elected officials accountable and to keep constituents informed about government operations. For this to work, the press needs access to information, through laws, which clearly establish guidelines as to what is accessible.

Having laws to provide that access is one thing. Getting access is another, and for this publication at times, that has been a challenge. Whether its lack of knowledge of the law or a refusal to comply, this is an issue that needs correcting.

Here is some of what tribal entities can exempt from disclosure:

  • trade secrets;
  • information that could constitute an invasion of privacy;
  • matters specifically exempted by law;
  • contractual arrangements;
  • casino financial records;
  • juvenile records.

Of course for publication purposes, much of what is exempted is information for which this publication would have little use.

However, here’s what is of value to this publication, and the public as well:

  • arrest records;
  • outcomes and details of court cases, civil or criminal;
  • legislation introduced and considered by Tribal Council and the Chiefs, regardless of status, and a vote count of who voted and how and whether the Chief ratified or killed it;
  • sex offender registry;
  • individuals who’ve been banished from tribal lands.

The problems this publication has encountered with obtaining public information have been with getting access in the first place, getting timely access and getting information without being charged a fee that exceeds the cost of providing the information. This needs to change.

Access to information benefits everyone, and the Tribe’s public records law is a good law. It provides a good working relationship with the media, and it better enables the media to provide fair and accurate news coverage. Whatever the issue, the media knows there are two sides. It wants to tell both sides. Access allows it to tell both sides.

This publication works to be fair and accurate. It works with tribal entities to get the story right and provide both sides. All tribal entities should work to comply with the law and work with this publication to provide access to what is public record and release what information the law allows. In the end, this publication and the tribal entities are all working for the same people.