Chief vetoes legislation to restore free press

Chief vetoes legislation to restore free press
(MN graphic) Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd returned NCA 18-184 with a veto message to National Council Speaker Lucian Tiger Jan 4.

Liz Gray/Reporter

Bill co-sponsors respond

OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — The bill passed by Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council, restoring Mvskoke Media’s status as an independent statutory agency and free press, was returned to the Council as vetoed by Principal Chief James Floyd Jan. 4.

NCA 18-184 would restore Mvskoke Media as it had previously operated before the passage of NCA 18-180 on Nov. 8.

Rep. Travis Scott, co-sponsor of the vetoed legislation, has been vocal in tribal leadership discussion about the repeal of the original free press bill and had a question referencing a memorandum that was sent out after the passage of NCA 18-180 during the emergency session that placed Mvskoke Media under the Secretary of the Nation and Commerce.

“The memorandum basically stated the principal chief supported what the National Council had approved that night,” Scott said. “Now that we have approved a repeal, I am caught in a discussion to figure out what changed when the vote was 7-6 and now the vote is 9-5 with the full Council present.”

“What has changed in the confidence level of the seven that voted the previous time to change it?”

Floyd said the main reasoning arose during the December session when he attempted to introduce a substitute bill for NCA 18-184 to Council.

“The Council felt like they didn’t have time to look at the substitution I had sent over,” he said.

Floyd said there is a stance that remains as it did in the memorandum Scott referenced.

“In the letter I sent the other day, I’ve not been involved in any decision making in any story in any time since the bill has changed and I don’t plan to,” he said. “I want it to remain independent…I just want to make sure we have an accountable framework and that’s it.”

Scott said the process, which led to the current situation, could have been handled better.

“I feel like there could have been some issues handled differently with the Council, the executive branch, with the editorial board and try to come to a happy medium with resolving those issues rather than proposing a bill to retro and repeal.”

A letter published in the Dec. 15 edition of Mvskoke News informed citizens of what the process would be for news coming out from the outlet after the passage of NCA 18-180, which includes review of content by the Secretary of the Nation.

“It is his responsibility,” Floyd said. “I think the misnomer is he’s looking over every word…every story that’s going out, even as late as today when I spoke to him, he’s not.”

“He just doesn’t have the time even if he desired to do that. The editor of the paper has full responsibility. I would suggest that any citizens have any questions, if they feel that there’s any concerns regarding censorship or lack of free speech then contact the editor of Mvskoke Media and talk to her directly.”

Scott said as a council representative he wants to inform the Muscogee (Creek) population the best of his ability, the general consensus he has received from citizens regarding the repeal of Mvskoke Media’s independent status is of mistrust.

“It makes the whole Nation not look very good,” he said. “There’s a lot of concern about ‘what are you trying to hide?’ ‘what does the Nation not want us to know?’ ”

Citizen response to the passage of NCA 18-180 has been a subject in the Nation, with a citizens’ petition being filed to reject the legislation. The petition application was approved by the Secretary of the Nation and would need 2,542 signatures from Muscogee (Creek) registered voters in order for a special election to be held.

“I think some people have gotten caught up in the narrative that’s been going on, you know, revoking freedom of the speech and free press. We’ve not done that,” Floyd said. “We’ve put into place a structure that helps solidify that, in my opinion and I think that’s voiced by a number of the council members, accountability.”

In Floyd’s veto message to Speaker Lucian Tiger, he presented five objections to passage of the legislation, primarily focused on structure, funding and financial oversight of the department.

Floyd said though the legislation caught the public off guard, talks among tribal leadership had been occurring before the night of the emergency session.

“I’ve expressed concerns to the National Council and a couple of other issues between that time and the time that the action was taken by the National Council,” Floyd said.

Scott said he asked several questions during the emergency session and was not satisfied with the answers provided. He said when he received the proposed legislation the day before he did not have any recollection of any concerns with such great magnitude.

“If funding was an issue, which that has been expressed many times in conversations, I think back in 2015. Back when the bill was originally proposed and ratified 14-0 that issue should have been proposed at the time,” Scott said. “Now all of a sudden it is an issue for me to grasp the intent right now of funding being an issue.”

Comments made by council representatives during the night of the emergency session consisted of addressing the presence of negative press in the media and the desire to have more positive press in the newspaper.

Floyd said negative press was not of concern to him.

“What concerns me is that it be verifiable, fact-based, truthful then it should go out,” he said. “I mean at this stage with me as principal chief and those council members, if we’re so sensitive to something being negative, then you know, we need to recheck our own values.”

Scott said he does not feel the tribal government should dictate what can and cannot be printed. He said the duty of the media is to provide stories that are facts so the citizens can remain informed.

“I’m still adamant about replacing the way the media should be,” he said. “We’re trying to override the veto now and then come together with the editorial board, the legislative branch, the executive branch and let’s sit down and see if we can rectify the problem.”

The first objection of Floyd’s veto states ‘repealing NCA 18-180 will not allow improvements to be made to ensure the efficient operation of Mvskoke Media.’

Objection two states the focus of the department should be on news reporting. In the message, it is stated only seven out of the 18 employees are dedicated to news reporting.

Eleven of those positions consist of administrative and technical support staff, a graphic design division and ad sales associates.

When asked what his plans would be for the employees, he brought up the fact there are two departments who venture in the graphic design area.

“We’re looking at the possibility of having a department that would serve the nation,” Floyd said.

The third and fifth objections are about financial concerns related to reporting and oversight.

“Other independent agencies come and present to the National Council because there’s a shared oversight by the National Council and Principal Chief with independent agencies,” he said.

In the veto message, it states the NCA 18-184 does not require Mvskoke Media to provide any reporting to the National Council or the Office of the Principal Chief.

Floyd said upon request, he received 2-3 quarterly reports from the department in the last year.

Floyd tried to introduce a substitute bill to the Council.

“They have looked at the substitute bill and they have kind of marked it up with some of their own thoughts,” he said.

Rep. David Hill, who introduced NCA 18-184, also weighed in on the substitute bill.

“Due to receiving the substitute bill late Friday afternoon, it didn’t allow me or other co-sponsors to review the amendments prior to the general session,” Hill said.

“I had recommended that we should go ahead and pass the bill and I would have Speaker call a work session to review all of the amendments together.”

Hill noted the veto message from Floyd contained objections that he felt the bill work to satisfy.

“After reviewing the veto objections I noticed all of the objections were the amendments that were going to be amended in the legislation bill,” he said. “Hopefully this can be worked out for the betterment of the Nation.”

Scott said from what he seen of the substitute bill, a new committee would be introduced without any jurisdictional or any managerial decision-making.

Objection four addresses the editorial board and the requirements of the members.

‘NCA 18-184 does not address the possibility of there being no enrolled Muscogee (Creek) citizens being both available and meeting the specific requirements to serve on the Editorial Board. In order to address such a situation, there is a need to provide for alternative choices for Editorial Board members. For example, eligibility for the Editorial Board could be opened up to citizens of other federally recognized tribes, if qualified Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens are not available.’

Before NCA 18-180 was passed, the board consisted of three members, in which two members had to be Muscogee (Creek) citizens.

Council will vote on the veto override during quarterly session on Jan. 26.

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