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A voter guide for Painttown Tribal Council

A voter guide for Painttown Tribal Council

Cherokee’s June 1 Primary Election whittled the field of candidates for Painttown Tribal Council down to four, and they will face off during the General Election Thursday, Sept. 7. 


During the June 1 primary, Sean “Michael” Stamper, who has held the seat only since January, was far-and-away the top vote getter, drawing 37.5% of the 637 votes cast. Incumbent Dike Sneed and challenger Jeff Thompson were in a neck-and-neck for second and third — Sneed received 134 votes and Thompson 129. Attorney Carolyn West took fourth with 64 votes.

The Smoky Mountain News reached out to all four candidates to ask their opinion on a range of issues. Only Thompson and Sneed responded for this General Election questionnaire, but both Stamper and West participated in the Primary Election voter guide. Their responses for this story are drawn from that guide and from various other sources as noted.

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Jeff Thompson

Thompson, 44, currently manages the tribal Handicapped and Elderly Living Program — called HELP — of Snowbird and Cherokee County, as well as the area’s housing and building maintenance programs. He holds an associate degree in business from Montreat College, is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration and has spent 20 years working for the tribe.

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Top three priorities if elected:  Fiscal responsibility is key. Outside vendors/contractors should be held more accountable for providing documentation. Better management of tribal finances will allow first for improved healthcare, second for housing and third for language restoration efforts.

Opinion on proposed constitution: Thompson believes it would be a “great thing” for the tribe to have a constitution and likes that the proposed document gives tribal citizens more rights and limits government power. However, he said, after reading both the original and red-lined versions he thinks the proposed constitution is “not definitive enough” and fears it might offer room for misinterpretation. For that reason, he hopes the amendment process does not prove difficult.

Path to stabilize and grow tribal finances:  The tribe has done well with revenue diversification, Thompson said, but fiscal transparency is lacking. Tribal members deserve to know how and why tribal dollars are spent — spending decisions should be made more slowly so there is time to seek second opinions and examine proposed plans.

Ideas to improve economic development and quality of life in Cherokee:  Surrounding towns like Bryson City, Sylva and Waynesville, whose streets stay busy the way Cherokee’s used to, are worth considering as models. Several projects in the tribe’s approved Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy should be put into action, investing more in downtown Cherokee so that the casino is not the sole economic engine locally. Such projects include the Cultural District Master Plan, Downtown Roadway Upgrades and Downtown Revitalization.

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Dike Sneed

Sneed, 62, has represented Painttown on Tribal Council since 2019, seeking election after a 24-year career in law enforcement that culminated with an appointment as chief of the Cherokee Indian Police Department. Prior to entering the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program, he held jobs at Barkley’s Textile of Cherokee, Buncombe Construction and Ken Wilson Ford.  

Top three priorities if elected: Preserving and perpetuating the Cherokee language; improving food security on the Qualla Boundary, to include building a slaughterhouse and constructing a new greenhouse on tribal land; containing spending of tribal funds and better prioritizing which ventures to pursue in the immediate future.

Opinion on proposed constitution: Sneed does not support the constitution as proposed, which has “too many legal aspects that are wrong with it.” After six years of work, the Constitution Committee produced a document that they admit still has flaws — “I think if we’re going to have a constitution, we need to have one that does not have problems,” he said.

Path to stabilize and grow tribal finances: Sneed believes that Tribal Council is on the right path, making sure that any proposal that comes in “gets vetted more than it ever has.” The body is also remaining actively engaged with the state legislature as it discusses legalizing gambling to ensure that, should such a law pass, it will be as beneficial to the tribe as possible. All tribal entities are involved in those discussions.

Ideas to improve economic development and quality of life in Cherokee:  Sneed’s focus is on sustainable food opportunities for tribal members that will protect it from shortages in the event of an emergency disrupting supply lines. The tribe is working to grow blight-resistant chestnut trees, which once offered a bountiful harvest to previous generations. Sneed hopes to bring a meat processing company to the Qualla Boundary and to replace a greenhouse the tribe used to have for growing food.

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Sean “Michael” Stamper

Stamper, 32, has served on Tribal Council since Jan. 3 after winning the special election Dec. 15. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Brevard College and has spent the last 10 years working for the tribe in positions spanning finance, higher education and public health and human services. He has served on the Sequoyah National Golf Course Board of Directors since 2014 and has been appointed to several human resource committees.

Top three priorities if elected:  Community involvement and participation; transparency in all matters, including finance, legislation and day-to-day issues; and listening to the community and being the voice of the people.

Opinion on proposed constitution: During a June 21 work session, Stamper said he supports putting the constitution out for referendum so that the people can decide whether they want to adopt it or not. He does not believe it’s his place to persuade voters one way or another. However, he said that personally he disagrees with the amendment process laid out in the document and with a provision setting 25 as the minimum age to run for Tribal Council.

Ideas to improve economic development and quality of life in Cherokee: In response to a Primary Election questionnaire in The Cherokee One Feather, Stamper said the tribe is progressing with economic development as shown by improved internet access and a water line replacement. This will allow for a future community “facelift.” Sustainable cultural tourism “will go hand-in-hand with the continued efforts to give Cherokee a new and updated look.”

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Carolyn West

West, 50, is an attorney practicing federal Indian Law and criminal defense who also chairs the board for Qualla Enterprises. She holds a J.D. and Indian law certificate from the University of New Mexico and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s in public affairs from Western Carolina University. She served as legislative counsel for the Navajo Nation 2014-2016 and for the EBCI 2016-2022.

Top three priorities if elected:  Establish a legislative committee system to ensure that Tribal Council thoroughly researches proposed legislation before acting, update the Cherokee Code and launch an entrepreneurship program for young people who don’t want to pursue the traditional college route after high school.

Ideas to improve economic development and quality of life in Cherokee: In response to a Primary Election questionnaire in The Cherokee One Feather, West said that supporting Qualla Enterprises would prove key to the tribe’s economic development, and to bringing “a long-standing tradition into the modern word.” She proposed hiring more enrolled members as public safety workers and starting a program leading middle and high school students toward careers in these fields.

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