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Friday, 26 May 2017 17:26

Cherokee council removes Chief Lambert from office

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After three full days of hearings, the Cherokee Tribal Council voted to remove Principal Chief Patrick Lambert from office yesterday.

Lambert faced 12 articles of impeachment, with a verdict of guilty on any one of them considered sufficient to remove him from office. The majority of council voted Lambert guilty on eight of the 12 charges.

Allegations included that his hotel illegally entered into a contract with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino after his election, that he executed various contracts without proper approval and that he made various human resources decisions without securing proper approval from Vice Chief Richie Sneed. A full list of charges and Lambert’s responses to them is online at www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/19987-the-charges.

“He hasn’t done his job and he hasn’t followed his oath,” prosecuting attorney Robert Saunooke said during his closing arguments May 24. “He’s spent money he wasn’t authorized to with contracts that weren’t put together. That’s a violation of his oath of office, and that’s impeachable.”

Defense attorney Scott Jones, meanwhile, argued that Lambert was innocent of any criminal or impeachable wrongdoing and had worked hard for the people during his time in office.

“There’s so much wrong with this process,” Jones said in his closing arguments. “The chief is not guilty of any impeachable offense. Impeachment is not a game of gotcha, and it ought not to be just political gain … When you treat the person who holds the most powerful elected office in the tribe the way you treated this chief — without fairness — the average tribal member cannot and will not expect fairness from tribal government.”

Tribal Council drafted the articles of impeachment, heard the case and voted on the outcome.

Votes on seven of the 12 articles of impeachment followed the 9-3 voting pattern that has pervaded the entire impeachment process, with Councilmembers Teresa McCoy, Richard French and Tommye Saunooke voting not guilty and the remaining nine councilmembers voting guilty.

Lambert was found not guilty on the charges involving bribery and cutting off resources from the Tribal Employment Rights Office, and two Grand Council-related charges. The only charge on which Lambert was found guilty that did not follow the 9-3 voting pattern was the charge involving changes to the tribe's organizational chart, in which Councilmember Bo Crowe joined the three anti-impeachment councilmembers in voting not guilty.

Silence filled the room as councilmembers voted and then called a 10-minute recess before swearing in Vice Chief Richie Sneed as the new Principal Chief. But when Sneed and Chief Justice Kirk Saunooke arrived and prepared to conduct the swearing-in, the crowd erupted, asking Sneed for a chance to speak and asking that a special election be held to fill the Principal Chief’s office. The reaction was so strong that the swearing-in could not take place in the council house, as planned. Instead, Sneed and several councilmembers left out the back door and went to the EBCI Justice Center to perform the ceremony.

Tribal members eventually left the council chambers but hung around outside for more than an hour after the impeachment’s conclusion. Most of them were Lambert supporters, shocked and saddened by the week’s events.

“I still think he’s the keeper of the stars,” said Barbara Waldroup, 60, of Birdtown. “We’re his stars. He’s been a good chief, an excellent chief, and he’s still our keeper.”

However, some Lambert opponents were also in attendance.

“I think it’s a great day that he’s gone because I used to work for him for six years,” said Katina Ledford, 44, of Birdtown. “He was corrupt then and he’s still corrupt. He was doing the exact same things and he’s just a little bit better than most to cover stuff up but it caught up with him.”

Lambert appeared to a crowd of supporters still gathered outside the council house an hour after the verdict was delivered. He thanked them for their support and said that, while he’s angry that tribal members were denied the right to speak before Vice Chief Richie Sneed was sworn in as Principal Chief, he’s not angry about the impeachment itself.

“It really boils down to the FBI investigating, and that’s what I ran on,” Lambert said. “That’s what y’all elected me for is to clean up the corruption and mess in this tribe. What does it boil down to? It boils down to corruption, greed and money.”

Lambert told his supporters that the electoral process is their best recourse. All 12 Tribal Council seats are up for reelection this year, with a primary election June 1 and a general election in September.

“We’re going to get together and we’re going to organize. We’re going to beat them this fall at the polls,” he said. “Remember next week too. But this fall beat them at the polls in September. That’s the best thing y’all can do.”

Before the impeachment decision, Lambert had declared administrative leave for all tribal employess on Friday, May 26. With the Memorial Day weekend coming up, Tuesday, May 31, will be the first working day of Principal Chief Richie Sneed’s administration.