By PRINCIPAL CHIEF PATRICK LAMBERT
In the month of April, while maintaining our focus on Tribal Programs and community events, I also took on a new and different focus; a focus on our local economy and small businesses.
I had several meetings here in town on business matters but also went out of town on two separate trips specifically to explore two new development concepts. An outlet mall retail and entertainment venue, and also the concept of creating a mega data center. Both of these concepts are real possibilities for our town and area, but it will take a lot of work and I am willing to roll up my sleeves to get something new accomplished.
Also in business, we organized the 1st Annual “Keep Cherokee Beautiful – Street Sweep” and also had some in depth meetings with our operational team and TCGE at the Casino for the future outlook projections and some proposed new amenities.
A lot of good things for our Tribe happened this month and we continue to make good progress for the good of the Tribe by doing what’s right for everyone as a whole. Here are some highlights from my calendar in April.
Saturday, April 2
Today, Cyndi and I traveled to Snowbird to celebrate Alfred Welch’s birthday. It was so good to see some wonderful people and visit with friends we haven’t seen in a while.
Monday, April 4
This morning I gave the welcome to speech to the National Farmers & Ranchers Association at the casino to open their conference held there. We had several officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture present. I announced at the Conference that I am intending to create a new “Department of Agriculture” within the Tribe this next budget year. I hope to develop our farming into a commercially viable market and be able to provide food to our schools, senior centers, casinos, and hospital. The idea of creating a Tribal Farm has been discussed for a long time, but I plan to make it a reality. I also plan to work with the Court and get our prisoners out to working on something productive whether that is farming or roadside cleanup, but this new department can spearhead those efforts.
Also on the 4th I attended the work kick-off for the new Big Cove Day Care Center. I am very excited for this to be happening for Big Cove. It’s been a long time coming. And, just as I have explained to many, I intend to get projects moving. Several projects have been approved and fully funded but have been sitting idle with no action for several years. I intend to get them accomplished and Big Cove was just the beginning of several local community projects coming.
Tuesday, April 5
Today was Budget Council, and I presented my report on the Forensic Audit of the credit card charges from the previous administration. I made a promise to the people to get to the bottom of any waste, fraud and abuse of Tribal resources – the people’s money – and I will continue to do so. I have attended preliminary reviews with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other federal authorities. We know there have been fraudulent expenditures, but it will depend upon the U.S. Attorney to take the case and bring charges. The confirmed amount of money reaches into the thousands of dollars on personal expenditures and other questionable charges of the Tribe’s money, and I will work to ensure that the people receive justice on this issue.
Also today, the veto I issued for shifting the account for Governmental Affairs out from the Executive to the Tribal Council was upheld. I want to thank those Council Members who stood with me and our interested in keeping the balance of power intact.
I also had a meeting with Swain County commissioner Kevin King. There is currently an effort by several local county governments to start charging our Tribe for Health and Sanitation inspection charges. Swain County proposed to bill us for over $80,000 to continue performing this requirement under state law. Jackson County has also made indications to our staff that they will be doing the same. I have responded that should the counties do this, I will push for legislation in Tribal Council to begin charging all non-member Swain & Jackson County residents, working for the Tribe and casino, a “Non-Resident Employment Tax”. Our civil jurisdiction extends to them and while they are employed by our Tribe, we will charge them a non-resident employment tax to help cover the added cost from Swain County’s and Jackson County’s new inspection charges.
Wednesday, April 6
I attended a lunch meeting with a very successful developer on bringing to Cherokee a Retail Outlet Mall and an Entertainment Complex. Present at our lunch was the General Manager for the Casino and the Commerce Division. The meeting went very well and he was very impressed with our location and the business we are already generating. We planned to meet again later in the month to begin further discussions. I am excited to bring new developments to our town and new businesses that not only our guests can enjoy but also our local residents and families can enjoy as well.
Thursday, April 7
Today was regular Tribal Council, but there were also other important events planned the same day:
The Cherokee Civil Action Team organized and sponsored an Anti-Drug walk. I was very proud to be a sponsor of this worthy cause. There is a tremendous amount of support for this group. I appreciate their work on the drug epidemic. We have a hard road to figure out this problem, but I am encouraged by the start of groups like this to get up and do something. I am working on these issues as well and plan to begin some efforts at educating our youth about the extreme dangers of drug addiction. I think we are going to almost to have a “Scared Straight” type of educational program that is taught mandatorily throughout our elementary and high school. I remember as a kid the old U.S. government films on the dangers of heroin addiction, and I believe those educational efforts worked to keep thousands of kids away from opiates. We have got to get them before the drug dealers do! Otherwise, it is too late and a life of misery and heartache can ensue.
I also had a meeting with Wayne Goodwin, N.C. Commissioner of Insurance, and was able to introduce him to Tribal Council. He is running for re-election and has been a good friend to our Tribe working closely with our Fire Department and others.
Later the same evening, Cyndi and I had the pleasure of joining the Cherokee Cancer Support Group for dinner in Birdtown at “Betty’s Place”. We truly enjoyed everyone’s company and listening to their personal stories. As you all know, I lost my dad to lung cancer almost nine years ago, and I miss him every day. I also have my mom, my sister, and my nephew as survivors, and this group has helped each one. I want to express my gratitude for the great work this group does to help anyone affected by this disease. Thank you.
Friday, April 8 – Saturday, April 9
These two days were our first Annual Spring Garden Fair. It was very interesting and encouraging to see the outcome of this event. I really enjoyed visiting with all the vendors and am committed to making next year even better. I have had so many positive comments following the event but the work and appreciation really goes to Jody Lipscomb. She poured her passion into the event and it turned out to be a very good event. Thank you Jody.
Monday, April 11
Today consisted of several meetings and staff meetings. Later in the day, I met to discuss the remodeling and naming of a permanent home for the Cherokee Speakers. There is a small building behind Kituwah Academy that can be remodeled to fit this need. I am also working to find ways to shore up our language academy and also putting plans together to approach the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction to make sure our language is continued as a core language course for graduation from our local area high schools.
Tuesday, April 12
Today started the beginning of the new “Community Harvest” garden kits. We went to Tsali Manor and later this same day we gave out more kits at the Yellowhill Community Building. Thank you to everyone involved.
Wednesday, April 13
Today was another first – our 1st Annual “Keeping Cherokee Beautiful – Street Sweep”. I always stated that I am very serious about cleaning up our town from end-to-end. For the longest time, I have stated that I think we need to pay more attention to how our town looks for our visitors as well as ourselves. We need to take pride in what belongs to us and keep the trashed picked up, the streets swept and the weeds and grass cut. On Wednesday morning, April 13, we mobilized a force as never seen before to hit the streets starting at 8am. We shoveled, swept, used blowers and big sweepers and covered the entire town; from the big parking area at the old fun park all the way down Acquoni and 19 to town, through town and all the way past the casino, across 441 to Casino Mart and back all the way around down past the theaters to town, and out the hospital road spur. We swept and cleaned over 10 miles of street-side in that one day! And, we hauled off several tons of road chat, gravel, trash, cigarette butts and weeds.
I am very proud of the Tribal workers and volunteers that came out to help do what they could to help with this endeavor. I was very glad to get out and work alongside our employees doing the tough work. I will make sure this continues and not just be a one-time thing. Pride begins at home and this town is our home. Let’s take care of it. Don’t litter and pick it up if you see it. This is not only for our business community but also for all of us.
I have received numerous compliments from the public, and I am happy with the outcome. Next time will be even better. There have already been several tell me they want to help next time. We all have to remember, our children our watching and learning from all of us.
Thursday, April 14
Another day of “Community Harvest – Garden kit” give away. We first traveled to Murphy to the John Welch Senior Center and then over to the Snowbird Community.
Monday, April 18
FIRE – The mountain in town was on fire and made a horrific day for trying to breathe. The smoke got so bad I finally ordered schools to close and send the children home. I also issued a two-hour delay to start the next day. Our firefighters and many BIA firefighters from out of State came to help. They are greatly appreciated!
The Cherokee Speakers Walk scheduled this day was cancelled, and it is now rescheduled for Friday, May 6. We will walk from the Bridge in town to the Ceremonial Grounds. Come join and show your support for the efforts to protect our language.
Also on this day I was asked to deliver a few comments to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) and the Deputy Secretary of NC DHHS for a meeting being conducted in Cherokee. Each of the surrounding County Health Departments were also in attendance. I very clearly stated that our Tribe will not stand idly by while the county governments attempt to impose a charge against us for state-mandated health and safety inspections. As I previously stated, I am prepared to push for a non-member employment tax if the counties pursue such an effort. I will keep you appraised of this issue.
Also today on the 18th, I attended the opening ceremony for the Senior Games at Western Carolina University. It was my honor to welcome all of our seniors and wish them luck in their games. It was good to see everyone there. I appreciate the invitation and am in full support of all our seniors, and the efforts to stay active and lead a healthy lifestyle!
Thursday, April 21
Today I had the opportunity to visit “Switch” in Las Vegas to take a tour of the largest and best run data center in the United States. The tour got into the interior of the operation and how “big data” is stored by the multiple companies who gather information on its customers. This type of business can be a new venture for the Tribe considering our ownership of Balsam West. The primary point before jumping into it is to ensure our customers are willing to locate here if we build it. The lesson I learned is that the business can be a great source of revenue but prior to spending millions on required building and space, we must first have the customers. The old adage about “Build it and they will come” is not true. We will be sure before we jump into it, but I want to thank Councilmembers Albert Rose, Bo Crowe and Teresa McCoy for pushing this concept. Let’s see where we can go with it in a secure manner.
Monday, April 25
Today was the annual TCGE retreat at the casino. In this meeting, we discussed various issues. We received a full briefing on “State of the Business” and where our most recent performance stands and our future projections. The revenue numbers continue to look strong but we must continue to grow and adapt. The per cap numbers for this upcoming check look very strong, and those amounts will be released this week. But, to continue the growth we will plan to keep our expansion growing as well.
The operations have recently reached a number of milestones in improvements to our operation. The Golf Shop was relocated, and in its place we created a Corner Market. A new “Earl of Sandwich” was opened. A Starbuck’s will soon be opening. And, we are preparing to break ground on the new Bowling Center. The operation has received numerous awards from nationally-recognized sources. We currently are scheduled to conduct three Circuit events for the World Series of Poker Championship. The National Championship will be held here Aug. 3-18, and it will be televised live on ESPN. There are numerous other good news stories coming from the Casino, and I applaud management’s efforts to keep our operation growing.
We received reports on the Parking Deck Ramp failure and have reports that we should be able to get it repaired and structural improvements made to reopen in approximately six weeks.
We also had some brief discussions on new opportunities for further smart expansions. This could include a larger convention center to be able to capture the large conventions and expand some dining options at the Valley River Casino in Murphy. Right now, the only offering is fast food.
And finally, we also had some serious discussions on the future potential of competition in our feeder markets. We will keep a close eye on all these issues and I will always try to keep you as informed as possible.
Tuesday, April 26
We had a marathon Tribal Business Committee. We started at 9am and did not break until we got finished at 2pm. We called in pizza so we could continue working.
At 2:30, I had a visit from the Environmental Protection Agency from Atlanta. Their top staff came to Cherokee and toured all afternoon. The meeting was very cordial and professional. I believe the EPA wants to work closely with us to help us maintain compliance with the EPA standards. We also discussed several other federal points that is outside their agency but they stated they can lend assistance with, such as the FEMA Floodmaps and the Forest Service with the bats.
To close the day, I took a meeting at 5pm with a group to discuss the Drug Court and ways laws that could be passed to help the situation. I will work with our Attorney General to attempt to implement some of these suggestions.
Wednesday, April 27
Open door visits for drop-in meetings. I held 17 meetings with different tribal members on various problems and areas of concern to them. It was a busy day, but I feel like it is important to keep these meetings open and going so I stay in touch with our community and family concerns. It also helps spotlight problem areas in our Tribe that I can focus on.
Thursday, April 28
Took a quick overnight trip to help recruit for a new outlet center and entertainment venue for our Tribe. I traveled with Chairman Bill Taylor, Council Member Richard French, TCGE member Jim Owle, and Secretary of Commerce Mickey Duvall. We met all day on Thursday and were very impressed with the vision and possible developments we can bring to Cherokee.
I am actively pushing and working every day to diversify and grow our local economy. This will help to protect and grow our Tribal Levy tax base and create more opportunities for our members and families for varied jobs and also for other fun places to shop and eat.
Saturday, April 30
Today was mine and Cyndi’s 30th Wedding Anniversary! We had a great day! Thank you to all the well wishes and comments! We love you all!
For May, I will be pushing for Tribal Debt payoff. The resolution will be on the table to pay off the Tribal debts from the Waste Water Treatment Plant and the new Hospital. A total of almost $100 million that we can reduce our overall tribal debt and this will help to add more financial security to our Tribe. Also, this is important to be able to grow with some of these other opportunities I have spoken about.
I will close here, but as you can tell, you elected a working Chief. I will not rest until we can put our Tribe in the best position as possible. And, I am also working every day to strengthen our ethical bases and assure that all waste, fraud and abuse of our Tribal Resources is rooted out!
Thank you and God Bless the Eastern Band