Casino board member loses fight to keep seat
After a yearlong tug-of-war, Angela Kephart has vacated her post as a Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise board member following the Cherokee Tribal Council’s razor-close decision to uphold July legislation shortening her term by a year to end Sept. 30.
The vote — 44-43 in favor of denying Kephart’s protest of the legislation — took place after about half an hour of closed-session discussion Sept. 22. The meeting convened in open session but closed at the request of Kephart, who said she was concerned about the possibility of “sensitive information” being discussed on air (Cherokee Tribal Council meetings are televised live on the Qualla Boundary). More than 25 people waited outside the chamber for the doors to open and the vote to be taken, according to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Communications Director Chris McCoy.
Kephart is decrying the decision as cementing an egregious overreach of power, while Kephart’s opponents — which include Principal Chief Patrick Lambert — are applauding her upcoming absence from the board.
“The tribe deserves leadership that represents Cherokee families with honor and integrity. The conduct represented in this matter were not what myself, and ultimately Tribal Council, felt best served the people,” Lambert said in a statement.
“I’m happy it came out like it did,” said Lea Wolf, a tribal member who frequents the councilhouse to track tribal politics. “It’s been too long that positive motion has gained ground. It was just a small victory but nonetheless a positive outcome.”
According to Kephart, however, what people such as Wolf see as a victory comes at a cost.
“It’s a manipulation of legislation that gives the principal chief a disproportionate amount of power and control,” Kephart said, “and it imposes his agenda on all supposedly independent boards.”
Lambert takes issue with that statement, pointing out that Council made the ultimate decision as to the fate of the resolution. Lambert merely introduced it for their consideration.
“It is completely within the law for a Chief to request and make amendments to prior resolutions such as this,” McCoy added.
The legislation in question, which Lambert introduced, set out to “clarify” the order of the appointments for Kephart and fellow TCGE board member Barak Myers, who were both appointed by former Principal Chief Michell Hicks in March 2015. Hicks’ legislation listed Myers’ name first and Kephart’s name second, stating that the first appointment would expire Sept. 30, 2016, and the second would expire Sept. 30, 2017. Lambert’s resolution, which passed in July, reversed the order of appointments so Kephart’s term would expire this year and Myers’ in 2017.
Kephart has never seen eye-to-eye with Lambert, who served as executive director of the TGCE throughout its existence until resigning to run for chief. Immediately upon taking office, Lambert sent Kephart a letter formally accepting her resignation from the board, which she insisted she had never given.
“It’s clear that he has a personal agenda with me,” Kephart said.
Kephart stayed on the board but became the focus of scrutiny earlier this year following reports of inappropriate behavior during a February Jennifer Nettles concert at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. A security video from Harrah’s — it’s unknown who obtained and publicized it— showed a roomful of Kephart’s guests in a suite the night of the concert. The video showed guests partying and making out with each other. Afterward, there were reports that casino employees serving the group had been sexually or verbally harassed, and some said Kephart had been accepting free alcohol — something that’s not permitted of a member of the TCGE board.
“The behavior that I observed and probably 11,000 other people have observed was inappropriate for someone that represents this tribe on a board,” Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove, said during an April council meeting in which she introduced a resolution to remove Kephart from the board.
Kephart, however, consistently denied any wrongdoing. Council voted to launch an investigation rather than remove Kephart outright, and following the investigation’s delivery, a large majority of council members voted to kill McCoy’s resolution to remove Kephart. Neither the report nor the name of the investigator were released, but a copy of the conclusion provided by Kephart stated that “the investigator believes it would be unfair to hold Kephart accountable for actions of her guests that she may or may not have been aware of.”
However, both Lambert and Teresa McCoy pledged that the vote wouldn’t be the end of the road for efforts to remove Kephart — Lambert’s legislation to switch the order of Kephart’s and Myers’ terms came to the floor the very next month. Throughout the past year, Lambert has maintained that Kephart is not to be trusted with an office of public responsibility and that there are ample reasons to remove her from leadership. TGCE board members are paid the same salary as Tribal Council members, more than $80,000 per year.
“I will continue to stand firmly with the Cherokee family and all employees who have had to suffer from this type of mistreatment from Ms. Kephart,” Lambert said in a June statement issued to The Smoky Mountain News.
Kephart, meanwhile, says that she’s being treated unfairly and that tribal members should be on guard against executive overreach.
“It’s not just going to be me,” Kephart said. “This clearly sets a precedent to where he can alter any term and switch them around.”
While the fight to keep her seat on the board is now officially over, Kephart is pursuing litigation against Louisa Reed, a Snowbird resident whose daughter allegedly suffered verbal abuse from Kephart during the Jennifer Nettles concert. Reed had addressed council in March to relay the story and ask them to intervene.
“I personally think this was hostile actions on this women toward my daughter,” Reed said in council.
After Reed’s appearance in council, Kephart filed a lawsuit alleging that Reed’s statement and “subsequent reactions by the tribal community,” had caused her “monetary and economic loss.” Kephart is asking for damages in excess of $10,000 in addition to attorney’s fees and court costs.
The suit is currently working its way through court.
How they voted
The Cherokee Tribal Council consists of 12 members whose votes are weighted, based on the populations of the areas they represent, to add up to 100. The number of weighted votes per member ranges from 6 to 12.
Members voted on a protest filed by Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise board member Angela Kephart as follows:
Deny the protest and uphold legislation ending her term on Sept. 30: Bo Crowe, of Wolfetown; Alan “B” Ensley, of Yellowhill; Marie Junaluska, of Painttown; Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove; Albert Rose, of Birdtown.
Uphold the protest and cause her term to extend to its original Sept. 30, 2017, ending: Brandon Jones, of Snowbird; Anita Lossiah, of Yellowhill; Travis Smith, of Birdtown; Bill Taylor, of Wolfetown; Adam Wachacha, of Snowbird.
Absent: Richard French, of Big Cove; Tommye Saunooke, of Painttown.
The vote was to deny the protest 44-43.