By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed has vetoed the Power to the People program (Res. No. 544 – 2017) which he estimates would have cost the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians a total of more than $57 million over the next 10-year span. After several months of being tabled and a work session, Tribal Council passed the legislation authorizing the program on Thursday, July 6 by a vote of 51 for, 31 against, 6 abstain, and 12 absent.
In a three-page veto letter to Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor, dated Tuesday, Aug. 1, Chief Sneed wrote, “First, no plan was implementation of this resolution was presented. Because the implementation of the proposed program falls within my purview, I feel it is imperative to have an assessment of the needs of our seniors and to have a real cost of this program. My primary responsibility is to provide responsible stewardship of all tribal assets. Second, upon consideration of this resolution, it was determined that the cost of this resolution is considerable, an estimated at nearly $4.2 million per year. If that cost was calculated over the next ten years with an aging population, that total would be more than $57 million.”
He added, “Our Tribe is committed to helping our senior citizens and that commitment is expressed in the $14 million currently budgeted for tribal services which includes programs specifically for senior citizens.”
The actual veto was signed on July 25.
According to information included in the veto, Tribal Enrollment reported that as of July 25, there were 2,137 EBCI tribal members who would qualify for the program. Table 5 of the veto shows the Projected Power to the People expense over the next 10 years and estimates that in 2017 the total would be $4,198,620. Using Tribal Housing H.E.L.P. senior growth figures, Chief Sneed estimates that the number of qualified individuals will grow to 3,873 by 2026 for a total of $7,203,780 that year.
The Power to the People legislation (Res. No. 544) was originally submitted in April by then-Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. The resolution states in part, “Many elders struggle to pay their monthly bills and are faced with the difficult choice of paying certain bills, while leaving other bills to fall behind…our Tribe has grown and established many services and programs to help enrolled members, and any program that will benefit and assist our Tribal elders should be given consideration and implementation whenever possible.”
This legislation gives a vastly different figure of those eligible for the program. “There are approximately 1,150 enrolled senior citizens in the five-county service area of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that are eligible for services provided by the Tribe,” the resolution states.
Before passage, the resolution was amended to state, “Elders who are customers of Cherokee Water and Sewer shall receive this service without charge…”
In his veto, Chief Sneed stated that the addition of water and sewer costs, at an average of $35/month, would total an estimated $448,770 to $897,540 annually based on the current number of senior citizens.
When first introduced in April, then-Chief Lambert commented, “We do a lot of things for our elders, but we should be pursuing all we can for our elders. I think this is a good way for us to show our appreciation to our elders, also to help take care of our elders who are having to take care of others in their homes, and also to help those elders who are struggling day-to-day to make ends meet.”
The vote to pass the legislation during the regular session of Tribal Council on July 6 went as follows: For – Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, Big Cove Rep. Richard French, Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley, Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe, Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke; Against – Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith, Yellowhill Rep. Anita Lossiah, Vice Chairman Brandon Jones, Painttown Rep. Marie Junaluska; Abstain – Cherokee County-Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha; Absent – Chairman Taylor.
During discussion that day, Rep. Saunooke, who made the motion to pass, simply stated, “Anything we can do for the elders, I’m going to support this.”
Rep. Wachacha, who abstained, said he’d like to see an assessment of all of the programs currently serving senior EBCI tribal members. “Moving forward, trying to take care of our people with the resources that we do have, I believe that it is our duty to find every available avenue to approach that.”
He also spoke to the financial obligation of the program. “As long as gaming is good, that’ll work. But, we need to look financially and be responsible and what if gaming is not so good? Where do we pull the money from? When do we start cutting back? Because my main thing is that when you give something, you don’t want to have to take it back away.”
Rep. Smith, who voted against the legislation, submitted a commentary to the One Feather which stated, “I am committed to protecting the financial resources of our Tribe and ensuring those resources are used in the best way possible to benefit all tribal members. Currently, the Tribe sponsors a program which assists our elders in financial need and that includes electrical bills.”
It would take a two-thirds vote of Tribal Council to overturn Chief Sneed’s veto. The agenda for the next regular session of Tribal Council, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 14, has not been released as of press time.