Chief suspended, then unsuspended; impeachment hearing scheduled
By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Within a four –hour span, Principal Chief Patrick Lambert was suspended from office and then, subsequently, not suspended from office.
In two resolutions, Tribal Council approved Articles of Impeachment (Res. No. 546 (2017) containing Articles of Impeachment) against Principal Chief Patrick Lambert and then suspended him from office (Res. No. 547) pending a hearing. During its regular session on Thursday, April 6, Council voted 9-3 on both measures, the first to approve the Articles which will be presented during an Impeachment Hearing set for Thursday, April 20 and the second to suspend him from office – an action that was overturned by the Cherokee Tribal Court.
Following the vote for suspension, Chief Lambert commented, “This is what happens whenever someone stands up and does the right thing. Show me one thing that’s a crime on there. There’s nothing. This is a vindictive attitude and action by Tribal Council because I have the federal government in here investigating unlawful activity.”
He requested thirty days to respond to the Articles of Impeachment, but Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor related that resolution, which was heard first, had already been ratified by himself and Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed and wouldn’t be brought back to the floor.
A few hours later, the suspension was overturned in a ruling Order of Tribal Court (Res No 547) by Judge Sharon Tracey Barrett, Cherokee Tribal Court temporary associate judge. She wrote in part, “…the Principal Chief will not have his powers or authorities suspended as a result of the Tribal Council’s actions today…”
Judge Barrett then set Monday, April 17 at 11:30am in Cherokee Court as the time for a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction on the impeachment process.
The Articles of Impeachment contained seven Articles total, each of which allege Chief Lambert “violated his duty and oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Charter and Governing Document of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians”. The allegations range from contract violations to changing the tribal organizational structure without Tribal Council approval.
During debate on the Articles of Impeachment, Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, one of the three dissenting votes along with Big Cove Rep. Richard French and Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, said Tribal Council was breaking the law with that action and others. “Right here today, everybody at this table that receives $80,000 in income is breaking the law because those raises were given illegally. I don’t care if you’re a new Council member. I don’t care if you’re an old one, you’re breaking the law.”
She made a motion to kill Res. No. 546 which was defeated.
The night before, on Wednesday, April 5, Rep. McCoy filed a Temporary Restraining Order against nine Tribal Council representatives in an attempt to keep them from “introducing or considering any articles of impeachment or anything related to the impeachment of Chief Lambert”.
Her motion was denied Order of Tribal Court – Rep McCoy case, and Judge Barrett wrote, “At this early stage of the litigation, before the Defendants have even had an opportunity to appear and defend themselves with respect to the relief sought, the Court finds and concludes that there has been an insufficient showing…”
A hearing on Rep. McCoy’s request for an injunction on the impeachment is set to be heard in Cherokee Tribal Court on Tuesday, April 11 at 10am.
During Thursday’s discussions, Yellowhill Rep. Anita Lossiah noted, “Our duties for Tribal Council, the legislative body of this government, are for budget and for legislation, and when these laws are not followed, we have the authority for enforcement under the Charter. Additionally, public funds cannot be spent without proper approval. We must protect the human resources and public funds of this Tribe.”
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith, who made the motion to pass both measures, said he wants to see the process go forward. “He (Chief Lambert) will have his due process if he’ll let it go through. He has tried to block his own due process in every possible way, and Teresa (McCoy) has helped that in every possible way. We’re trying to get through a process here and be fair about it and open-minded about it.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha addressed the due process issue during debate on the suspension legislation. In addressing Rep. McCoy, he referenced the impeachment process used previously for former Tribal Council Chairman Bob Blankenship and the late former Principal Chief Leon Jones – both of whom were vindicated during their impeachment hearings.
“Tribal Council is given authorization to impeach any elected official by two-thirds vote. We’re trying to do due process that you helped establish during the Blankenship and Jones era,” Rep. Wachacha told Rep. McCoy. “The President of the United States can’t even veto his own impeachment.”
Previously, in February, Chief Lambert vetoed Res. 502 (2017) that called for Articles of Impeachment to be drawn up against him. During the March Regular Session, Tribal Council overrode the veto by a vote of 9-3.
During debate on the suspension, Lori Taylor, an EBCI tribal member from the Big Cove Community, stated that she felt any of the Tribal Council representatives currently under investigation by federal authorities should be suspended also. To date, no charges have been filed nor has an official list of those under investigation been released to the public.
Rep. McCoy stated she didn’t feel that Tribal Council even possessed the legal power to suspend Chief Lambert. “I need to see the law, the Code, the Ordinance, anything that says we can suspend a Chief. You don’t get to make up the law. You don’t get to make it up. You’re still not following the process. It’s wrong. You don’t suspend an Indian Chief.”
Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose told Chief Lambert following the vote to approve the Articles of Impeachment, “With the findings that we have here, it’s not like I woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m going to impeach Patrick Lambert’. I voted for you. I mean, I did everything in the world to get you in office. There was an investigation performed, and there were findings. All I wanted was a hearing. That’s all I asked for. That’s all I want is to see the evidence.”
In other business on Thursday, Rep. McCoy had four resolutions she submitted on the agenda, three of which were to impeach other tribal officials including Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor, Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed, and eight members of Tribal Council excluding herself and Reps. French, Saunooke, and Crowe. The fourth piece of legislation dealt with where business is allowed to be conducted by Tribal Council.
Rep. McCoy withdrew the resolution seeking impeachment of Chairman Taylor, and the remaining resolutions were tabled until the May regular session of Council.
At the end of Thursday’s session, Chief Lambert addressed Council again and stated, “The Court has ruled and it has been shown who is standing as Chief until another time, and that’s me. And, I’ll make sure things are taken care of in the proper way just as I always have for the year-and-a-half that I’ve been here.”