By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Office of Vice Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been vacant since late May when then-Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed was sworn in as Principal Chief following the impeachment of former Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. Now, Tribal Council has voted to hold a Special Election for the Vice Chief seat.
In a Special Session, that was a reconvening of the July Session, on Thursday, July 27, Tribal Council voted 57-43 to hold the Special Election. There was no resolution accompanying the vote; just a move by Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, a second by Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, and a vote. Voting went as follows: For – Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, Big Cove Rep. Richard French, Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha, Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley, Rep. Saunooke, and Rep. Crowe; Against – Chairman Bill Taylor, Vice Chairman Brandon Jones, Painttown Rep. Marie Junaluska, Yellowhill Rep. Anita Lossiah, and Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith.
Following the vote, Chairman Taylor stated, “There will be a special election, and I think, at this point in time, the proper thing to do would be to get a resolution in place and have it ready for Thursday (Aug. 3 Council Session).”
A legal opinion regarding the Special Election, from the Council’s legal counsel, was referenced during the Thursday discussion. The One Feather requested a copy of that opinion, but has yet to receive it by press time.
The selection of a Vice Chief is covered in the EBCI Charter and Governing Document and the Cherokee Tribal Code.
Section 14 of the EBCI Charter and Governing Document states in part, “In case of death, resignation or disability of the Vice-Chief, the Council may elect a successor who shall serve until removal or disability or his successor is elected.”
Section 161-8(b) [Special Elections] of the Cherokee Code states, “If the position of Vice Chief is vacated, the Council may elect a successor from Tribal Council Representatives, who shall serve until his or her successor is elected the balance of the elected term of office.”
There was no open discussion on the issue during Thursday’s meeting, but Tribal Council did discuss the idea of holding a Special Election during a Special Session held on Thursday, June 15. In that meeting, Tribal Council decided to seek an opinion from the Cherokee Supreme Court as to the legality of holding a Special Election. The Supreme Court did not issue an opinion on the matter.
In that meeting, several Council representatives made their voices clear on the issue.
“I have to respect the wishes of our people, and they all want to vote and should be able to do that,” said Rep. Saunooke. “So, I’m going to stick with let the people vote.”
Rep. McCoy stated in that meeting, “I have always had confidence and faith in our people voting – whether it was voting for me to be in this seat or voting on an alcohol issue or a marijuana issue, blood degree issue, land issues…trust your people.”
Tribal Council also had another pressing issue to deal with on Thursday – tribal payments including payroll for tribal employees.
An email from EBCI Secretary of Treasury Cory M. Blankenship to Chairman Taylor was released by Chief Sneed on Wednesday, July 26. That email states, in part, “The Tribal Council passed Resolution No. 610 (2017) that provides all payments issued on behalf of the EBCI can be issued with one signature. That signatory authority is given to Principal Chief Sneed. However, Resolution No. 610 (2017) expires at 5pm Friday, July 28, 2017 or when a new Vice Chief is sworn in, whichever comes first. The authority granted by this resolution expires this coming Friday. In short, unless additional action is taken by the Tribal Council, the Treasury Division lacks the authority to issue vendor payments, payroll, per capita loans, Medicare Part B reimbursements, contract payments, travel payments, etc. with only one signature.”
On Thursday, Tribal Council introduced and passed unanimously Res. No. 667 (2017) which extends the signatory authority granted in Res. No. 610 until Dec. 31, 2017 at 5pm or a Vice Chief is sworn in – whichever comes first.
However, the tribal government is still in a hiring freeze.
Section 4 of the EBCI Charter and Governing Document states, “There shall be an Executive Committee, which shall consist of the Principal Chief and Vice-Chief. The committee shall execute and carry out tribal laws and administer the daily operations of the Tribe.”
Part of those daily operations include tribal government hiring. The EBCI Treasury Division released a statement following Thursday’s special session, “In the absence of a Vice Chief, all hiring processes, employment transfers and other employment actions requiring Executive Committee approval remain on hold until further action is taken.”
Chief Sneed ratified Res. No. 667 on Friday, July 28. Since the action of Council calling for a Special Election was only a move and not attached to a resolution, a short draft of the move will have to be submitted to TOP and subsequently the Office of the Principal Chief for further action (ratification or veto). That hadn’t occurred by press time.