By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Following a lengthy debate during its regular session on Thursday, Jan. 9, Tribal Council approved term limits for the TGC (Tribal Gaming Commission) and TCGE (Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise) boards of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). By an unanimous vote, Council approved amendments to Cherokee Code Chapter 16, specifically Section 16-2.01(e)(1) and Section 16A-3(e)(1), that limit a person to only serving two terms on either board.
Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle submitted the legislation and noted at the beginning of Thursday’s debate, “I brought this ordinance change in so we can give people a better opportunity of serving on these boards. I think an appointment and a re-appointment – I think that’s plenty.”
He added, “I think let’s spread around the opportunity for our people to come in and be part of this board…sometimes, change is good. If you’ve been on there for longer than two terms it might get kind of stale.”
During the discussion, Vice Chairman David Wolfe offered an amendment that would have set it at no more than two consecutive terms. That amendment failed by a margin of 69-31 with Vice Chairman Wolfe, Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha, Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, and Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke voting in favor.
“The only heartache I’ve got with the ordinance change here is we’re not considering the experience some of these individuals bring to it,” said Chairman Wachacha. “So, you have the two three-year appointments, using TGC as an example, and then within six years they’re gone.”
He went on to say, “I’m not saying that we don’t have enough people that can fill these positions, but it’s really hard to replace experienced people on these commissions and boards. But, I too stand with the majority of Council on making sure that we are looking outside of just a certain section and pool and considering everybody.”
Chairman Wachacha said he plans to submit legislation in February to bring forth a formal process when dealing with appointments across the Tribe.
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke said that term limits are already in place to a point in that Tribal Council has to approve all of them. “You have the right to vote no. These are the Chief’s appointments. He has that right to do that. When it comes to this body, you can raise your hand or you can say no.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed offered his thoughts on the debate, “…whenever we talk about appointees, it’s always implied ‘oh, it’s the same people every time’. I have appointed no fewer than 12 first-time appointees who have never be on a board before…at the end of the day, to Tommye’s point, the process as it exists right now is to just vote it up or down. It’s that simple. If the candidate that is presented before you has the qualifications, you can support that…the term limit is this – this body says no…at the end of the day, this body has the ability to say yes or no.”
He noted that he welcomes a formal process. “Every time appointments come up, we end up in a debate like this, and every time I say if Council will create a process then that is the process we will follow. But, as it stands right now, it’s just you vote it up or you vote it down.”
Becky Walker, an EBCI tribal member from the Birdtown Community, said that she also is happy to see a process being worked on, “If you have a process and you have qualifications in regards to the board and criteria and the responsibilities of the board, then, you don’t have to have a debate. You have actual qualified people presented to you who can hold their own and even stand in front of you and talk about their qualifications – what they bring to the table, who they are and what they represent. Because that’s the kind of people I want on these boards.”
She also added that a person’s place of residence should have no bearing on their ability to serve on a board. “Once again, it’s not about what community you’re from, it’s what you bring to the table.”
Later in Thursday’s session, Albert Martin Jr., an EBCI tribal member and long-term employee at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, was added to the Tribal Gaming Commission. His term will end on Dec. 31, 2022. He replaces Robert Saunooke whose term ended Dec. 31, 2019, and Martin joins former Vice Chief Larry Blythe, whose term ends Dec. 31, 2021, as well as Bentley Tahquette whose term ends Dec. 31, 2020.