Grand Council votes to stop impeachment

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians held its first Grand Council in 20 years yesterday, with traffic backing up for more than a mile down Big Cove Road as tribal members flocked to the event, held at Cherokee High School.

During the seven-hour meeting, with 1,355 people in attendance, enrolled members voted overwhelmingly to rescind resolutions that Tribal Council had passed to institute impeachment proceedings against Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. Of the 1,140 people who cast paper ballots on the impeachment questions, 958 voted in favor of repealing the resolution that directed articles of impeachment to be drafted against Lambert, and 959 voted in favor of repealing the resolution that introduced the articles themselves and set an April 20 hearing date.

Additionally, 1,182 people voted in favor of establishing a program to assist tribal elders with their heating bills — 60 people voted against the measure — and 1,029 people were in favor of renovating the old high school for use as a tribal headquarters. On that resolution, 119 people voted in opposition. At the end of the meeting, a motion from the floor was adopted by a show of hands to develop and implement plans for a new gym, Speakers Bureau space, classrooms and grade 6-12 curriculum for New Kituwah Academy. This item was not included on the paper ballot.

The ballot count at the Grand Council was 31.3 percent of the ballot count in the 2015 chief’s race that got Lambert elected. Compared to the 71 percent of voters who cast their votes for Lambert in 2015, 84 percent of voters at Grand Council voted to stop his impeachment. However, many tribal members who have been vocal supporters of impeachment did not attend Grand Council.

With the majority of Tribal Council still in favor of impeachment, the authority of Grand Council will likely be disputed. The tribe’s Charter and Governing Document states that the principal chief has the authority to call a Grand Council of all enrolled members but does not define the authority of that body. Lambert has pointed to longstanding tribal tradition as the basis for Grand Council’s authority.

Likewise, the Charter states that Tribal Council has authority to impeach any elected official by a two-thirds vote, but it does not say that Council has the authority to remove officials that are impeached.

An impeachment hearing was scheduled for Thursday, April 20. However, a decision by the Cherokee Tribal Court on Monday, April 17, put a 10-day stay on impeachment proceedings, Lambert’s chief of staff Sage Dunston said.

Look for more coverage of Grand Council and the unfolding impeachment issue in the April 26 issue of The Smoky Mountain News. 

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