By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
For the second time in a week, Tribal Council voted to have a Special Election to fill the vacancy of Vice Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. By a slim margin of 51-43-6, Council passed Res. No. 692 during their regular session on Thursday, Aug. 3 that states in part, “The Tribal Council instructs the Board of Elections to schedule a Special Election.”
A week earlier, in a special session, that was a reconvening of the July Session, Council voted 57-43 to hold the Special Election. There was no resolution accompanying that vote; just a move by Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, a second by Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, and a vote.
The passage of Res. No. 692 was a formalization of the vote and provided the document necessary for the EBCI Board of Elections to carry out the special election. That vote went as follows: For – Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, Big Cove Rep. Richard French, Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley, Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, and Rep. Crowe who introduced that legislation as well; Against – Painttown Rep. Marie Junaluska, Chairman Bill Taylor, Vice Chairman Brandon Jones, Yellowhill Rep. Anita Lossiah, and Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith; Abstain – Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha.
According to the TOP Office, the resolution had not been ratified nor vetoed as of press time.
Denise Ballard, EBCI Election Board chairperson, told the One Feather the Board will schedule the special election once they receive a ratified resolution. She said the basic timeframe will be as follows: advertise the filing for a week, 15 day filing period, and then 30 days from the filing deadline will be the special election.
Ballard noted that filing fees and background checks will be in place for the special election just as in any tribal election. But, she did note that there will be no early voting or absentee voting.
Due to the time it takes to garner background checks, she did relate, “We would encourage people to file as early as they can if they are considering running.”
At the beginning of the discussion on Res. No. 692 on Thursday, Chairman Taylor asked for legal opinions on the legality of holding a special election for Vice Chief.
“Both the Charter and the Cherokee Code state that the Tribal Council elects a successor when there is a Vice Chief vacancy,” said Carolyn West, Tribal Council legal counsel. “There is no provision, in either the Charter or the Code, for a Special Election.”
Chairman Taylor then asked EBCI Attorney General Danny Davis, “Are there any provisions in the Charter or the Code that allows for a Special Election?”
Davis answered, “No, other than if it is a simultaneous vacancy.”
Later in the discussion, he added, “There is no provision for a special election under these circumstances.”
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.”
Rep. Wachacha, who abstained in the vote on Res. No. 692, stated, “I’ve got calls from both sides. People are wanting to have the special election, but then I get calls too with people saying the law is pretty clear the way it is and follow the law. I’m sort of torn right now because I want both, but I know it can’t be both ways currently.”
Referring to Section 14 of the Charter, Rep. McCoy commented, “We violate the Charter when we don’t consider the word may. And, I think when the legal counsel for the Council is giving us an answer to something, she needs to answer the whole question. She left out the word may, and we may, and we have. We’ve selected outside. We’ve selected inside, and we’ve let our people vote.”
She went on to say, “This is a Council decision. Our public’s expecting a special election, and that’s the way I’m going to lean.”
Rep. Saunooke said, “I will not go against the wishes of my people. If they want to vote, they should be allowed to vote.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed related that he’s had people tell him there was no planning following the impeachment of former Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. “This is the plan. Had this body gotten together to create a plan, that’s conspiracy. The ordinance is the plan. The ordinance guides what this body is to do in the event of a vacancy in the Chief’s office, the Vice Chief’s office, or both offices simultaneously.”
Rep. Lossiah said she couldn’t support a special election. “We’ve been advised that this wasn’t allowed in the law, and everybody around this horseshoe was in agreement on having an election for the Vice Chief…but, if it’s not allowed for in the law, that would be a violation of the law that I was sworn to uphold. And so, at that point, it seems that you need to change the law to allow for a better policy.”
Several snags have arisen for the Tribe due to the vacancy in the Vice Chief’s office including signing authority for issuance of payments and hiring within the tribal government. During their special session on July 27, Tribal Council passed Res. No. 667 (2017) which extended the signatory authority granted to Chief Sneed in Res. No. 610 (2017) until Dec. 31, 2017 at 5pm or until a new Vice Chief is sworn in – whichever comes first. Both resolutions provide that payments issued on behalf of the Tribe can be processed with only one signature, that of Chief Sneed, instead of himself and a Vice Chief.
The hiring freeze within the tribal government remains.
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 the July 27 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.”
Rep. Rose spoke to some of the problems that have arisen due to the hiring freeze and related that Tsali Care Center is having volunteers work now due to understaffing at the facility. “If we can’t have a special election, I hate it, but you know I have to look after the employees too. But, I want to do the right thing by the people so it’s a really hard choice.”
Big Cove Rep. Richard French noted, “I won’t turn on my people. That’s who we’re here for.”