By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Ernest Tiger, an EBCI tribal member and businessman, is unhappy with the current laws and structure of the Tribal Business Preference Law and the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) laws. He submitted Ord. No. 113 (2016) to Tribal Council seeking changes he said would help fix gaping holes in the law.
Tiger addressed Tribal Council during its regular meeting on Thursday, March 3 and said his proposed Ordinance amendments were developed after he found “a lack of accountability, transparency and access to business opportunities for TERO-certified businesses at the Cherokee and Murphy gaming properties.”
“The following Ordinance provides a solution to these voids and further ensures that the Tribal Business Preference Law mission is met.”
The current Tribal Business Preference Law (https://www.municode.com/library/nc/cherokee_indians_eastern_band/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIICOOR_CH92TRBUPRLA) was established with Ord. No. 280 (April 29, 2002) and, according to Tiger, is void of providing language “in support of TERO-certified businesses when competing against non-tribal contractors.”
Tiger alleged, “There are a total of 530 casino vendors at the Cherokee gaming property alone. Of that population, non-tribal businesses make up 96 percent of those total vendors which leaves only 4 percent, or 23 vendors, to account for certified tribal businesses.”
He went on to say that accountability is the issue. “It’s a matter of following the municipal code. There is a huge lack in actually following the municipal code, and it’s usually followed only when it’s convenient.”
Kevin Jackson, who was appointed to the TERO Commission on Jan. 7, said the Commission is aware of the problems brought forth by Tiger, “We have a new Commission. We are looking at the Ordinance right now.”
He said the new Commission has met three times over last month. “We are working diligently to fix this law. We’re reviewing the Ordinance right now, and we see that there is a lack all through it. It does not benefit the vendors right now. We’re working on Ordinance change.”
Jackson said the Commission will propose a more in-depth Ordinance. “I believe the changes that we are getting ready to propose will benefit our enrolled members for employment and for promoting entrepreneurship.”
The Commission is hoping to have its changes submitted to Tribal Council in a month or a little after. “I believe that we can grow this TERO organization,” commented Jackson. “It’s not being utilized to its full capacity. I believe that it can grow and sustain itself eventually.”
While doing research in working on their proposed changes, the TERO Commission has looked at other TERO laws at the Cherokee Nation and the Tulalip Tribes in Washington. “They’re very successful, and they work for the people.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy said the entire situation disturbs her. “Apparently, Caesar’s or Harrah’s doesn’t think that a Cherokee is capable of doing the same thing that somebody else can do, and we are. Every day, educated members of this Tribe get turned away.”
She said TERO issues have been a “nightmare” for Tribal Council over the years. “I am interested and excited to see anything that you all bring in to us here that is going to benefit the members of this Tribe.”
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith echoed Rep. McCoy’s sentiments and thanked Tiger and Jackson for their work on the issue. “It’s been a long time needed I believe.”
Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor also praised the work of the Commission, “They’re working on some good stuff right now. They’re working trying to fix some of these things.”
Mary Crowe, an EBCI tribal member from Yellowhill, said that she attended a TERO training conference in 1995 with then-Principal Chief Joyce Dugan and other tribal officials. She said the original intent of TERO was to protect tribal employees.
“After Chief Dugan’s administration, the TERO concept changed to where it was businesses coming in to get TERO-certified…that concept got twisted.”
Crowe added, “That’s where we’re having the problem. We need to get back to that basic concept of what tribal employment rights is supposed to be about, and that’s basically just like the North Carolina Department of Employment Security Commission.”
After discussion, Tiger agreed to withdraw his legislation since the TERO Commission is working on Ordinance overhauls.