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Council authorizes mayor to sign agreement with Cherokee Nation

The Tahlequah City Council, during a Sept. 5 meeting, authorized the mayor to sign a Memorandum of Agreement between the city and Cherokee Nation that would support tribal and community cooperation to ensure public safety.


City Attorney John Tyler Hammons said the city has no jurisdiction to ticket tribal members for municipal violations.


“This Memorandum of Agreement would be necessary to allow somewhat of a ‘pre-McGirt understanding,’” he said.

Hammons explained that since the McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling in 2020, Cherokee Nation has entered into agreements with approximately two dozen municipalities.


“What this would do is if a tribal offender were to break a city of Tahlequah regulation – a speeding regulation, seat belt regulation, anything like that would normally be handled in municipal court. Should they plead guilty; our municipal court would process that; send it over to the Cherokee Nation for signature; the Cherokee Nation would donate back all the $30 of any fines that result from that; Cherokee Nation would keep $30 for their cost; and the city of Tahlequah would keep the rest,” Hammons said.


Should a tribal offender plead not guilty, the case would be sent off to Tribal Court.


According to the MOA, nothing in the agreement shall be construed as a waiver of the sovereign immunity of the Cherokee Nation or the city of Tahlequah.


The board approved directing staff to pursue a Community Homelessness and Housing Needs assessment study.


Ward 4 Councilor Josh Allen said the city has been looking into addressing the homelessness issue.


“It’s just come to our attention that we really need in order to qualify for a lot of the national funding, we really need data. We need a study done. There are multiple sources that are interested in helping us but they want to make sure that the city is interested in pursuing this,” Allen said.


Additionally, Allen said the process would take some time and the city was looking to do something “short-term.”


“This would be developing a plan, a long-term plan, so we’re hitting this from every side that we can,” he said.


According to the item report, Allen stated the city needed a better understanding of where Tahlequah stands, and the study would help bring in federal funding to help alleviate the issues.


In other business, Police Chief Nate King informed the board that the recent rise in gun violence at high school football games has made it necessary to increase law enforcement presence.


“Opening weekend of high school football, there were three different games affected by guns or gun violence,” King said.


All six school resource officers are already in attendance at all home games in Tahlequah. King said his department will be utilizing the Strategic Focus Unit and there will be eight additional officers at the games.


“We feel like this is probably right now the most pressing need is to beef up our security at those home football games,” he said. “While it’s a school event, it’s still a police department issue because [of] the security there.”


According to Tahlequah Public Schools, all attendees can only bring clear bags to the games. Diaper bags and cases that contain medical equipment will be permitted but subject to inspection.


The board gave its nod to earmark $72,939 in the American Rescue Plan Act fund account for the benefit of the Tahlequah Trails Association.


“That’s an earmark, that’s not an expenditure so what that means is for you all – the council may change their mind at a future date. I have no reason to think they would if they approve it but until they have voted to actually spend the funds, the money is not spent,” Hammons said.


The TTA applied for the Tahlequah Community Fund Special Project Challenge Grant in April 2023. TTA would hire a professional trail building company to complete a 2.5-mile section of the advanced trails.


TTA was awarded the TCF Challenge Grant in June 2023 and board members were seeking funding to match the Special Project Challenge Grant in the amount of $72,939.

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