Council passed the resolution in a 9-3 vote, which translates to an 80-20 weighted vote, after an emotional session during which Lambert supporters packed the chambers to denounce the impending action. If no councilmembers change sides, then council will have the two-thirds majority it needs to overturn the veto.
The resolution had included a provision allowing Vice Chief Richie Sneed — not Lambert — to sign and ratify it, stating that the measure was necessary because “Patrick H. Lambert has a conflict of interest in this matter.” Sneed signed the resolution the day it was passed, but according to Lambert there is no legal basis for him to do so.
“I have not delegated my right to veto any act of Council pursuant to the Charter, and the Tribal Council may not, by resolution or ordinance contravene the Charter,” he wrote in a Feb. 21 veto letter sent to council.
Tribal Council voted to begin impeachment proceedings following completion of a report from the Tribal Office of Internal Audit’s investigation into contract awards and human resources decisions under Lambert’s administration.
According to the report, five contracts had been executed that didn’t have approval from the Business Committee or that exceeded the contract value. The report also found several areas of deviation from tribal code or tribal policies in the human resources department, but many of the explanations of how those policies were violated were redacted in the publicly released version of the report. Lambert, meanwhile, has stated that he has explanations for all the supposed violations but that those explanations were not included in the report.
At the same moment Tribal Council was deliberating impeachment last month, 26 FBI agents were at the Qualla Housing Authority removing two U-Hauls full of hard drives and documents as part of an ongoing investigation into dealings there. Qualla Housing administers about $3.2 million each year in federal grants and is overseen by a seven-member board. Six of those members also sit on Tribal Council.
Lambert believes the impeachment efforts are simply retaliation for his role in alerting the FBI to possible corruption.
“They want to accomplish this merely because they are in a retaliatory mode of thinking, and cannot stand the fact that I fully intend to follow through with my promise to you to work as hard as I can to clean up the ‘past culture of corruption’ that existed prior to my election,” Lambert wrote in a Facebook post accompanying the veto letter.
If anybody should be removed from office, Lambert said during the Feb. 2 meeting, it is corrupt members of Tribal Council. He repeated the assertion in his Feb. 21 Facebook post.
“I work for the people, the people of this Tribe,” he wrote. “Perhaps I should return the favor and sign an executive order and ‘suspend’ a few of them. Do they think that would work?
“Or perhaps a certain individual thought he was about to become Chief … I say that if you want to be Principal Chief then sign up and run next election, if you win then I will politely and professionally work for a smooth and steady transition and hand over the reins.”
Sneed addressed the insinuation head-on during Tribal Council’s Feb. 28 budget meeting.
“It’s been alleged that I want to be chief, and that’s why all this is happening. Ladies and gentlemen, if I wanted to be chief I would have run for that office,” he told council. “I’m not so selfish that I would somehow try to orchestrate an impeachment knowing the anguish it would cause to everyone involved.”
Sneed also touched on Lambert’s allegation that he violated tribal law by signing the impeachment resolution. He did not comment on the legality of his actions but said that he would accept whatever consequences came his way for them, “up to and including impeachment.”
“I will not divert attention from my actions or point fingers. I will not ask supporters to fill the chamber to defend me,” he said. “I will stand.”
The comment could have been a barb toward Lambert, who has consistently said he did not break any laws and that the greater weight of wrongdoing is on the side of council. During the Feb. 2 meeting, his supporters packed the chambers and delivered comments in his defense to council before the vote took place.
“All of this is about one thing and one thing only — the Internal Audit findings,” Sneed said. “Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not personal for me.”
Lambert responded by repeating his claim that he’s done nothing warranting impeachment and that Tribal Council has not given him a fair chance to respond to the allegations against him. In the past, he’s repeatedly invited council to have him investigated by the FBI or U.S. Department of Justice if they feel he’s violated the law.
“It’s been asked several times by certain members of this body to listen to give me a chance to respond, and this body has chosen not to,” Lambert said. “And then there was a rush to judgment to pass a resolution that was meant for nothing more than to try to damage my reputation.”
Lambert gave a rundown of his justifications for four of the five contracts the OIA report called into question, saying that while he’d been advised not to discuss them outside of a formal legal setting, he felt the people had the right to know.
One of the items, a $353,000 contract for solid waste disposal, wasn’t a contract at all, he said. It was a continuation of an agreement with the Cherokee Boys Club that was carried out in the way it has been carried out “for eons.” A $628,000 contract to expand and renovate the executive offices actually did have Business Committee approval so shouldn’t be on the list. Contracts with the company that conducted the forensic audit did not meet the $50,000 threshold to require Business Committee approval, he said, and the reason actual costs had totaled $318,000 as of Sept. 30 is that the additional costs were invoices for services, not contracts. Similarly, he said, the tribe entered into a contract with a company that studied the feasibility of installing time clocks in tribal offices — $18,000 — but actual expenditures totaled $182,000 because the tribe then went out and made an equipment purchase of the time clocks themselves. Such purchases are not contracts, Lambert told council.
He averred that he had documentation to back up every one of these claims.
“Each one of those contracts that you all seem to be hanging your hats on is easily explained,” he said. “Quite frankly I’m getting tired of this kind of attitude and comments toward me as though I’ve done something wrong.”
The matter will likely be discussed further at the March 2 Tribal Council meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m. Meetings are broadcast online at https://livestream.com/accounts/10717024.