The vice chief’s seat has been vacant since May 25, when then-Principal Chief Patrick Lambert was removed from office by impeachment and then-Vice Chief Richard Sneed was sworn in as principal chief. A slow-motion debate over how to fill the vice chief’s seat has unfolded ever since, with many members of the public demanding a special election.
Meanwhile, a significant number of Tribal Council members felt that tribal law did not allow a special election under the circumstances — Tribal Council discussed the issue during special-called meetings June 15 and July 27 before voting narrowly Aug. 3 to hold the election. The consensus was that Tribal Council should amend the election ordinance to ensure that the law explicitly allows for such an election, but since election laws can’t be changed during an election year, that amendment would have to wait until after new Tribal Council members were seated in October, meaning that a new vice chief couldn’t be sworn in until December.
The resolution calling for the special election still lacks a signature from Sneed, however. Sneed has 30 days from the Aug. 3 vote to either veto or ratify the resolution, with a third option to allow it to sit for the full 30 days and go into effect without a signature. The resolution was passed by a 57-43 vote; overturning a veto would require at least 66 votes in favor of the special election.
Immediately following the Aug. 3 meeting, Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove, announced her intention to run for the vice chief seat — her candidacy is featured in the Aug. 9 issue of The Smoky Mountain News. Gary Ledford and Sharri Pheasant have also made public announcements that they plan to run but did not return requests for interview. Vice chief hopefuls Mary Wachacha and Trudy Crowe are featured below.
Wachacha’s main goal as vice chief would be to support the chief’s agenda and to help the legislative and executive branches work together for the good of the people. She’d also like work on downtown revitalization in Cherokee, create a branch of government dedicated to tribal culture and history, enact a constitution and address the housing crisis.
“I would like to see our government actually function as a government,” she said. “In my opinion we do not function as a government.”
A member of the Yellowhill community, Wachacha, 68, has run for Tribal Council twice and lost narrowly both times. She graduated from Western Carolina University in 1971 and then traveled to the African country of Tunisia, where she spent two years teaching as a member of the Peace Corps. She then returned to WCU and graduated with a master’s degree in public health in 1975, teaching physical education at Cherokee Elementary School for 13 years before taking a job at the Cherokee Indian Hospital. By the time she retired in 2013 she was a division director of the federal Indian Health Service managing a $358 million budget.
Wachacha is married with four children and four grandchildren and is currently working on a book about the modern history of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Crowe hopes that her track record as a community leader and hard worker would allow her to help the tribe heal and move forward if she were elected as vice chief.
“I want to come in and work with council, work with the new chief, and start some healing processes so that we can get our tribe moving and our programs back in line,” she said. “Right now it looks like there’s a lot of things that are being done spitefully.”
Her top priority if elected would be to get the executive and legislative branches working together once more — while the drug epidemic and the housing shortage are important problems to tackle, she believes the tribe won’t make any progress toward solving them if the branches don’t first start working together.
Crowe, 52, is currently the wellness manager at the Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center and has worked for the federal government for 21 years, often working on budget and policy building during that time. Earlier in her career, she was a registered nurse at the Cherokee Indian Hospital. She holds bachelor’s degrees in nursing and psychology from the University of North Dakota and a certificate in health care management from Jones International University. Crowe has served as a member of the Big Y Community Club and Community Club Council, which includes representatives from all Cherokee communities.