Investigation on personnel issues boils over
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal Council approved a measure in August to wage an investigation into various personnel issues regarding tribal employees of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. That measure was then vetoed by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert a week later, and then that veto was overridden during the regular Tribal Council session in September.
That issue came to light again with a heated discussion during the regular Council session on Thursday, Nov. 3.
“This body approved an investigation for hiring practices at HR…and, then suddenly we hear that subpoenas went out in Tribal Council’s name,” said Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke who stated she was not contacted about their issuance. “I’m still a Councilwoman. This morning, when I looked in the mirror, I’m still part of this body. Some of us did not know that subpoenas went out.”
She said the investigation has now spilled into Cherokee Tribal EMS and the EBCI Education and Training Dept. Rep. Saunooke asked Tribal Council Chairman, “Why? Without Council’s approval, why did you do that?”
Chairman Taylor responded, “There was a vote taken that day (August) to do an investigation.”
He referenced a letter, which he said contains the signatures of eight Tribal Council representatives, sent from Tribal Council to Internal Audit. “It’s over the majority and over two-thirds.”
Rep. Saunooke said she was never approached about the letter.
Chairman Taylor commented, “Once we got started, there was other employees come forward with information that they thought was pertinent to the investigation. Those employees came to us. We didn’t go to them.”
Chief Lambert stated, “I want to express a very serious complaint about the files that were gotten over there. My son was involved in that. That’s a political attack in my book. There’s no reason why my son’s education file should be given out to this Tribal Council.”
Chairman Taylor then said, “This body never requested for any information. We never told no employees to go get something and take it…that was not part of the subpoena. We never asked anybody to take any information, any file, or anything.”
Chief Lambert said he doesn’t appreciate the attacks. “I think it’s a witch hunt. I’ve told this Council, if you have any questions of me, ask these questions. This witch hunt that you all are on is just ridiculous, and you see what it’s doing.”
On his son’s file, he added, “That’s a violation of federal law, and I’m exploring my options right now as to who’s been involved to see who needs to be charged with violating the Federal Privacy Act.”
Rep. Saunooke then stated, “Once again, I would say that anytime anything is sent out with Tribal Council, it should be done in here by this entire body.”
Big Cove Rep. Richard French related to Tribal Council that his daughter’s file at Education was also pulled. “We sit right here and we talk and we talk about drugs and alcohol – what’s killing our kids. Then, you’ve got kids who are trying to go on and better themselves. She’s come back and given to this community because this community sent her to school. Then, she gets jumped on and her file taken…”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy questioned the validity of the subpoenas. “Subpoenas were issued by Council members. Some were signed off on by our legal counsel. Those are not subpoenas because there’s a process in place, and the process we’ve used historically, as a Council, to issue subpoenas.”
She went on to state, “And, I’ve asked this question before. What exactly are we investigating? No one knows, but apparently, we’ve got some people here at the table that take issue with what’s going on with the Executive Office or Secretaries for the Tribe. It’s turmoil, and I’m not included in that.”
Rep. McCoy then made a motion to “cease and desist the entire investigation”. That motion failed with eight Council representative voting to kill the motion. Voting to uphold the motion and cease with the investigation were Reps. McCoy, Saunooke, and French. Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe was absent for the vote.
Reps. McCoy, Saunooke, and French voted to uphold Chief Lambert’s veto in September.