By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In an effort to strengthen the ethics policies of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Tribe’s Audit and Ethics Committee is proposing several changes to the existing Code of Ethics encoded in the Cherokee Code Article IV, Section 117.45. The Office of Internal Audit and Ethics, charged along with the Audit and Ethics Committee with enforcing the Code of Ethics, submitted Tabled Ord. No. 174 (Ethics Ordinance) in April. A work session was held on the table ordinance’s proposed changes on Monday, July 23.
Sharon Blankenship, EBCI Office of Internal Audit Ethics manager, led the discussion on Monday and worked with Council line-by-line on the proposed changes.
Several changes discussed in Sec. 117-45.1 (Definitions) including adding people seeking elected office as well as those who have already been elected as “tribal officials” who must abide by the Code of Ethics. It also adds a subsection which states, “Except that tribal officials shall not include Tribal Court officials provided that the Tribal Court adopts a Code of Ethics approved by the Office of Internal Audit and Ethics.”
Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha commented on that subsection, “I know when we talk about tribal officials, it refers to all elected officials and none of them are elected, they’re appointed.”
The next section discussed was Sec. 117-45.3 (Code of Ethics) section (b) which already states, “No tribal official or any member of their immediate family shall solicit or accept gratuities, favors, or anything of monetary value from contractors, potential contractors, or subcontractors who are contracting to perform services or sell goods or property to the Tribe or a tribal program.”
The proposed change to this section would add at the end, “This provision shall not prohibit ordinary gifts between family members, provided they are in accordance with the rules established by the Office of Internal Audit and Ethics.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke posed a scenario for discussion, “What if the contractor is my brother?”
Blankenship replied, “If you’re accepting the gift from the contractor, you shouldn’t be able to do that, but if you’re just accepting a gift from your brother, that’s ok.”
Rep. Saunooke then asked, “But, how do you differentiate?”
Blankenship said, “It would depend on the nature and the reason for the gift exchange…it would require judgment, and on a case-by-case basis we would have to review it.”
Chairman Wachacha proposed another possible scenario, “Let’s say we’re having a groundbreaking and one of the contractors is there and they’re giving out goodie bags and they receive the reward (contract). This is basically saying that we can’t receive anything.”
Blankenship said, “That’s correct.”
Blankenship then read a proposed change to Sec. 117-45.3(c) which would replace the existing language to the following, “No tribal official shall enter into any contract for providing services or goods to any tribal entity, enterprise, or program. This provision does not prevent a tribal official from receiving from a tribal entity, enterprise, or program services or goods on the same term offered to any tribal member.”
Chairman Wachacha noted, “That’s pretty broad. That basically entitles a tribal official to any good or service that anyone else is entitled to?”
Blankenship replied, “That’s correct, and that was the conversation of if you went and purchased goods from the Cherokee Boys Club, would you be able to do that under this provision? That’s why it was requested that we bring back language so that you would be able to purchase goods from the Cherokee Boys Club.”
Among the proposed changes to the ordinance is the addition of a new section, Sec. 117-45-4 (Attestation and Disclosure). Blankenship explained, “We’re asking that tribal officials file with our office so we know who all tribal officials are other than the elected officials because they’re a lot of appointments who are also considered tribal officials.”
Under that proposed section, all tribal officials would be required to filed an Attestation and Disclosure Statement “upon election or appointment and no later than October 1 of every year thereafter” or face a $250 fine.
Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown asked if the Audit and Ethics Committee would be willing to visit each community and answer questions relating to the Code of Ethics to which Blankenship said she would schedule those visits.
At the end of the work session, Michael McConnel, EBCI interim attorney general, noted, “I sit on the Ethics Committee as a non-voting member so I am really familiar with this. I have talked with the Committee and the outside attorney that the Ethics Committee works with who is the primary author, and I agree with what’s on the page.”
Tabled Ord. No. 174 is scheduled as Item #3 on the Tribal Council agenda for Thursday, Aug. 2.