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Former chief Hicks will no longer direct Tribal Gaming Commission

cherokeeFormer Principal Chief Michell Hicks was all set to take over the tribe’s highest-paying job — director of the Tribal Gaming Commission — when his political term ended Oct. 5, but now that offer’s off the table.

The TGC board’s Sept. 11 announcement that Hicks would take the job met anger from many tribal members who felt that the selection process had been politically influenced, as Hicks had appointed all three board members and negotiated his salary as TGC director with them while still in office. 

“I think that’s created a sense in the community that it was a dirty deal,” said new Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, who held the executive director’s position for 22 years before his run for chief. 

Hours after his inauguration, Lambert submitted a resolution to the Tribal Council on Oct. 5 asking that the three sitting TGC board members be removed, charging that Hicks’ hire was “nothing more than political payback,” the scenario was rife with “conflicts of interest” and the TGC had breached tribal code by allowing board member Sheila Davis to be considered for the director’s position. Council voted unanimously to relieve Don Rose, Bob Blankenship and Sheila Davis of their seats on the board. 

“I don’t have any trouble removing the current TGC board,” Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove, said. “I have no trouble probably doing it a year ago if the truth be known, or two years ago for that matter.”

In their place, Lambert instated — with council’s approval — Robert Saunooke and Walter “Dan” McCoy, with a third candidate to be recommended later. The new commissioners then rescinded Hicks’ offer of employment. 

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Hicks, Blankenship and Davis were all present at the Oct. 8 hearing of fired and demoted employees, and all had strong words for Lambert.

“We tried to do everything properly and we knew this is the number one paying job in this tribe and there were going to be a lot of people interested in it, and there was going to be political pressure,” Blankenship said. 

The TGC contracted with the New Mexico-based firm Valliant Consulting Group to handle the hiring process, from advertising to reviewing resumes. The firm then gave the TGC a ranked list of the top five candidates, and the board interviewed the top three, offering the job to the top-ranked candidate. That wasn’t Hicks — salary negotiations didn’t work out with the top candidate, so the offer went to Hicks, who ranked second. 

According to Blankenship, Lambert had initially asked the TGC to hold off on hiring until after he took office, and when the board refused, he told them if Hicks was selected he would do everything he could to reverse the decision. 

Davis, meanwhile, told council that she was upset she’d been removed because she didn’t feel there was anything wrong with her applying for the job, as she was not part of the actual hiring process. 

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