By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal employees of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were happy following the last session of Annual Council on Thursday, Oct. 31 when Tribal Council approved a 5 percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) for them. Two weeks after that, employees received an email from Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed that made them even happier.
Council approved Res. No. 44 (2019), submitted by Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley and Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe – later amended to include all of Tribal Council, that would provide the COLA. Vice Chief Ensley said on Oct. 31, “I think the employees are worth it. We all call on tribal employees to do whatever we, as elected officials, need done on a daily basis. The majority of these are enrolled members that we have working. We have around 1,100 employees, and they are the backbone of the Tribe.”
In his email dated Nov. 14, Chief Sneed wrote, “…the resolution passed by Tribal Council failed to identify an effective date for the COLA and cannot be implemented as approved. We are working to correct that error. Furthermore, the 5 percent is not enough to fully recognized our workforce.”
His email continued, “(1) The last EBCI COLA was in FY2016. Since that time, federal wages have increased 6.4 percent. (2) Since FY2016, social security COLAs have totaled 6.7 percent. (3) Over the last two years, the EBCI has delivered the two most conservative budgets in the Tribe’s history, reducing expenditures with no reductions in service. (4) Our tribal workforce has done more with fewer employees – we carry over 100 vacant positions currently.”
He goes on to propose a 7 percent COLA that would be retroactive to Oct. 1. Chief Sneed said in his email he plans to submit legislation regarding his proposal as soon as possible and noted that it will be in the form of a joint resolution from himself, Vice Chief Ensley, and Tribal Council.
As of press time, Chief Sneed has not vetoed nor acted upon Res. No. 44 and a copy of the new legislation is not yet available.
Res. No. 44 originally called for EBCI Human Resources to do an annual assessment going forward to see if COLAs are warranted. Chief Sneed offered an amendment, which was approved, that the assessment process also include the EBCI Executive Committee and the EBCI Division of the Treasury.
During discussion on the legislation during the Oct. 31 session, Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke inquired, “If someone is at the top of the pay scale, how does this (COLA) come into play?”
EBCI Secretary of the Treasury Cory Blankenship replied, “When an employee meets the maximum for a salary grade, any COLA or merit beyond that is a cash payment.”