Impeachment in Cherokee

Grounds for impeachment

Grounds for impeachment

The articles of impeachment passed by the Cherokee Tribal Council on April 6 outline seven grounds on which to remove Principal Chief Patrick Lambert from office. In a Facebook post, Lambert offered a counterpoint to each accusation. 

Article I: Lambert broke a law that prohibits elected officials from entering into contracts with tribal entities by securing a $5.6 million, four-year room agreement between his hotel and the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise. The contract was signed after his election but before his swearing-in. 

Lambert’s response: “My wife and I have owned the Cherokee Grand Hotel for many years and while I was not employed by the Tribe nor sworn into office as an elected official, I entered an agreement with the Casino for a block of rooms. No where (sic) does Tribal Law require anyone to divest themselves from property or even contracts that were valid and ongoing prior to becoming an elected official or program manager … This accusation does not comport with the law as I was not a Tribal official until I took the oath of office in October 2015.”

Article II: Lambert began to spend tribal funds in his capacity as principal chief before actually taking office. The start date for renovations to the executive office was Oct. 1, 2015, while Lambert’s swearing-in was Oct. 5, 2015. In addition, he incurred $9,100 in legal services, billed to the tribe, for work performed before the swearing-in. 

Lambert’s response: “In this charge they want to impeach me for getting legal preparation and transition work done by Scott Jones prior to me coming into Office.”  Jones’ work was approved in the first five resolutions the new council approved, on Oct. 5, 2015. “Nothing prohibits the duly elected Chief to commit to costs and expenditures in support of an orderly and smooth transition of power. These costs are documented and verifiably in support of this transition.” Regarding the contract to expand the executive offices, “the start date of October 1, 2015 was referenced in error as activities did not commence in earnest until late November of 2015.”

Article III: Lambert violated tribal law and policy by executing numerous contracts without proper approval from the Business Committee and in several instances spent far more than the actual contract value. Neither a $62,000 contract to renovate the executive offices nor a $150,000 consulting contract had Business Committee approval. A $65,000 forensic audit contract involved $315,400 of expenses, and an $18,000 contract for a time clock study incurred $181,000. 

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Lambert’s response: “Each of these contracts are for real work and were presented to me as they had been thru the entire system and were ready for signature.” The $62,000 expansion price tag was never executed formally, and the contract had proper approval from the Business Committee. The $150,000 consulting contract had already been approved by the previous administration, and Lambert simply re-affirmed it. The forensic audit contract was performed on the advice of legal council, as Business Committee members would have had a clear conflict of interest. The $18,000 time clock contract was for a plan to implement the system, and the rest of the money was for purchase of equipment and so not part of a contract. 

Article IV: Lambert made numerous changes to the tribe’s organizational structure without approval by Tribal Council, as required by law. 

Lambert’s response: “The reorganization worked to be able to bring a lot of the work in house and utilize our resources more efficiently,” and the new organizational chart was included with the proposed budget, but Tribal Council delayed its passage. “When Tribal Council did get around to passing the budget in December, the organizational chart was still included with their budgets and they approved the organizational chart as is the normal and standard procedure.”

Article V: When ratifying the ordinance that made the Tribal Employment Rights Office independent, Lambert issued a statement saying that he would no longer allow TERO to use tribal resources, as required by Cherokee law. 

Lambert’s response: “In order for TERO to become a truly independent organization, said services should be properly transitioned and funded by their organization similar to the TCGE, CIHA and Cherokee Boys Club. It is well within the day-to-day operational authority of the Office of the Principal Chief to suspend such services in light of that independence; however in the interest of the Tribal employees and families affected no such actions have been taken.”

Article VI: The tribe’s Charter and Governing Document requires that the executive committee — comprised of the principal chief and vice chief — must work together to execute and carry out tribal laws and administrative duties. However, Lambert failed to follow this law by making a political appointment and authorizing a salary without proper approval; hiring an interim manager for a position that already had a manager; authorizing an unbudgeted salary increase; and increasing pay for five employees — all without proper knowledge and approval by the vice chief. 

Lambert’s response: “They pretend that the personnel policy is law, but it is a policy and does not rise to the level of any impeachable offense.” The interim manager was appointed because the manager was going to be out of town for a month; the political appointee was hired using funds for a position that Lambert decided to eliminate; and pay adjustments were made for several employees — within their existing pay grade — after those employees explained their positions. 

Article VII: By incurring $9,100 in legal services — billed to the tribe — prior to his swearing-in, Lambert broke a law prohibiting elected officials from “knowingly commit(ting) an unauthorized act which purports to be an act of his office.

Lambert’s response: See response to Article II.

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