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Wednesday, 22 March 2017 14:57

Three Cherokee councilmembers decide not to run for re-election

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Three seats will be up for grabs in Cherokee’s 2017 Tribal Council elections, with incumbent councilmembers from Big Cove, Snowbird and Yellowhill not signing up to run for re-election as of the March 15 filing deadline.

Vice Chairman Brandon Jones, of Snowbird; Councilmember Alan “B” Ensley, of Yellowhill; and Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove, have decided not to seek re-election when their terms end Oct. 4. 

On the other hand, several former elected officials have cast their names in the running to take a seat around the horseshoe. 

Terri Henry, who served as Tribal Council Chairwoman 2013-2015, will be attempting to unseat one of the current councilmembers from Painttown — Tommye Saunooke and Marie Junaluska. Junaluska defeated Henry in the 2015 elections following a controversy-plagued term during which nine of the 12 councilmembers voted to give themselves a raise of about $10,000 effective immediately — many tribal members decried the action as illegal and contested it in court, where the case was eventually dismissed due to lack of standing. Henry is currently serving as Secretary of State under the administration of Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. 

Former Councilmember Perry Shell was also ousted in the 2015 election and this year will be running to regain a seat representing Big Cove. Councilmember Richard French, who beat Shell in 2015, is running for re-election but longtime Councilmember McCoy is not. 

Over in the Snowbird/Cherokee County township, former Vice Chief Larry Blythe — who lost his seat in the 2015 election to current Vice Chief Richie Sneed — will be vying for a seat on council. Vice Chairman Jones currently represents Snowbird on council but will not be running for re-election, though his fellow Snowbird Councilmember Adam Wachacha will be. 

The races in Birdtown and Big Cove drew the most interest from prospective councilmembers. The lower-population Big Cove area attracted the most candidates, with 10; in Birdtown, nine people signed up to run. 

Overall, 46 candidates have signed up to vie for 12 seats. However, the candidate list is not final. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Board of Elections must first certify that all candidates filing are eligible to run for election. Eligibility qualifications are laid out in Section 161-3 of the Cherokee Tribal Code, with stipulations based on the candidate’s age, residency and criminal record, among other criteria. 

In 2015, 43 candidates signed up to run for Tribal Council with the number winnowed down to 41 candidates after certification. In 2013, 34 certified candidates were on the ballot. 

The current Tribal Council term has been a contentious one, featuring open antipathy between the tribe’s legislative and executive branches. Council is currently in the midst of an attempt to impeach Chief Lambert — an effort supported by nine of the 12 councilmembers — and meanwhile the FBI is investigating possible wrongdoing within the Qualla Housing Authority, on whose board six of the 12 councilmembers sit. 

Tribal Council members hold two all-day meetings each month, with each councilmember serving on a variety of committees and expected to attend various work sessions, meetings and ceremonies throughout the month. Councilmembers make a salary of $80,600, with the vice chair paid $83,500 and the chair $86,400. The fee to sign up as a candidate is $500. Councilmembers serve two-year terms, with all 12 seats up for election in each odd-numbered year. 

A certified list of candidates will be complete March 30. The Smoky Mountain News will run the official candidate list at that time.

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