• Brittney Bennett

Council approves more impeachment remedies for chief; allots CARES Act funds

Updated: Jun 9

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT

EDITOR


TAHLEQUAH – The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council voted June 6 to approve additional impeachment remedies upon Chief Joe Bunch and allotted a large portion of its $24 million in CARES Act funds during its regular monthly meeting.

Sequoyah County District Representative Barry Dotson made a motion during the meeting to approve an addendum to the impeachment remedies imposed upon Chief Joe Bunch, who was impeached on five counts during a hearing held January 7, 2020.

Under the definition of the UKB Impeachment Code, “impeachment” means: “A proceeding against a public officer before a body, instituted by a written accusation called ‘articles of impeachment’.”

Remedies proposed at the time for Bunch included removal from office, but Council elected to only issue an official censure letter, or reprimand, before the meeting concluded.

Bunch filed an appeal of the charges with the UKB Courts that is still pending and has since continued to serve in his official capacity as chief of the UKB.

However, at the June 6 meeting Dotson read a letter that proposed additional remedies.

“At a dually called Council meeting on June 6, 2020, Council by motion has voted to impose the following remedies on the chief for his impeachment on five counts. If passed by council this addendum will become part of the official censure of Chief Joe Bunch, will take effect immediately and will be effective until the winner of the next election for chief is sworn into office or until Council rescinds this addendum, whichever is earlier,” Dotson read. “If this addendum is approved by Council, the additional remedies for impeachment shall be: The chief shall have no supervision authority over any employees. The chief shall have no CEO powers. The chief shall be removed as a signatory from the band’s bank account. The chief shall refrain from any travel on behalf of the UKB. If the chief violates any of these remedies, he shall resign effective immediately.”

The tribe’s Attorney General Klint Cowan clarified that Dotson's letter was “identical” to what Councilors drafted after discussion in February.

“Some council members wanted to add certain things to the punishment of the chief after the impeachment had already happened. In response to that, I had prepared this in February. The Council didn’t want to move forward with it, so this is the same as what we had in February,” explained Cowan. “These would be additional punishments in addition to what you decided at the impeachment hearing when you decided to only censure the chief…”


Cowan also noted that Bunch’s appeal of the impeachment charges is still awaiting judgement by the UKB Courts.

“I imagine the chief’s lawsuit is still pending with the judge and if you do this, he’ll probably take it to the court and try to undo it because you’ve already passed some remedies at the impeachment hearing,” said Cowan. “He has gone to court, but the judge still has it under advisement. I believe chief’s attorney filed some motions, but to my knowledge they haven’t been ruled on yet. It could go to court, but Council is the supreme governing body and so if Council decided to do it, I would defend the Council’s decision in the court.”

Dotson’s motion was then given a second by Treasurer Ella Mae Worley and passed by a vote of 8-3-1.

In addition to Worley and Dotson, Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson and Councilors Frankie Still, Jeannie Tidwell, Sharon Benoit, Adalene Smith and Peggy Girty all voted in favor.

Councilors Eddie Sacks, Charles Smoke and Jeff Wacoche voted against, while Secretary Joyce Hawk voted to abstain.


Unless reversed by Council or the UKB Courts, the legislation will remain in place until the next chief's election is held on November 2, 2020.


"The Council is the supreme governing authority of the tribe. The Council therefore likely has the authority to do this, but Chief Bunch may challenge the decision in tribal court," said Cowan via email. "The motion does not conflict with anything in the current appeal of the Chief’s impeachment because the judge has not made any substantive rulings in that case."


Bunch has indicated he will be challenging the June 6 decision.


"The Council has chosen to act illegally and outside the UKB Constitution by changing the outcome of the hearing months after it was completed," said Bunch via email. "We will be filing a petition for injunctive relief later this week."


UKB Chief Joe Bunch, seated right, sits with his lawyer while the impeachment charges were read before the Tribal Council on January 7, 2020. BRITTNEY BENNETT/GCN

During the meeting Councilors also unanimously passed a resolution allotting a large portion of its $24 million in CARES Act funds.

Funds have been allotted as follows: $5 million to Housing for “rehabilitation;” $5 million in direct COVID-19 relief payments to tribal members; $5 million for the construction of pandemic related buildings; $3 million to Education; and $50,000 to Health and Human Services for direct emergency aid to tribal members.

Councilors did not elaborate on how the funds would be broken down and spent by each individual department, or how the remainder of the tribe's CARES Act funds would be spent.

In other business, Councilors voted to:

Begin advertising for the position of executive director of tribal operations (EDTO) and bypass requirements for internal posting of the position to expedite the process;

Begin advertising for the position of a COVID-19 related procurement specialist/purchasing agent externally for five days;

Voted to engage with Oklahoma accounting firm Finley & Cook for COVID-19 consulting and comptroller services;

Tabled reports from Enrollment, the Tax Commission, the Corporate Board until next month;

And voted to allow Environmental Director Whitney Warrior to apply for an Urban Agriculture and Innovation Production Grant and to apply for Tribal Historic Preservation status with the National Parks Service and State of Oklahoma.

The next regularly scheduled Tribal Council meeting was set for Saturday, July 11 at the UKB Wellness Center. Masks will again be required for all attendees and given to those who do not have masks on hand.

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