• Brittney Bennett

Impeachment Hearing: What are the charges?

Editor’s Note:

Siyo, readers!


I wanted to write a quick address before you read this article in an earnest attempt to avoid showing any bias in my work.


Many of you have had questions about tomorrow’s impeachment hearing, stating that you aren’t aware of what grounds the Articles of Impeachment are filed under or how they came about. When the charges first went public, the Giduwa Cherokee News did not receive these documents. In fact, I only obtained them on Saturday, January 4 after the Tribal Council meeting directly from our Attorney General Klint Cowan.


While I am not allowed to release any documents stamped “confidential,” I feel it is appropriate to make sure our members understand the full scope of the impeachment allegations. One of my most important goals when I became the Giduwa Cherokee News editor was to better inform our members about their government and the actions it takes. I do not want to formulate an opinion for you.


These allegations are in no way yet proven and will be examined by the Tribal Council during tomorrow’s special meeting, where Chief Bunch will also have a chance to address the allegations. This story only outlines the allegations, but does not pass judgment on the validity or non-validity of the statements within. Anything you see in these markings (“ “) means that the information is a direct quote from the filing itself.


Wado,

Brittney Bennett Giduwa Cherokee News Editor


UKB Chief Joe Bunch

TAHLEQUAH - United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Joe Bunch will face an impeachment hearing and possible banishment from the tribe on Tuesday, January 7 after Sequoyah District Representative Barry Dotson filed Articles of Impeachment charges against Bunch on November 21, 2019.


Dotson alleges several constitutional and tribal law violations within the filing, dating as far back as 2016.


Count 1 alleges that Bunch attempted to “conspire” to hire an individual of his choosing for the tribe’s grant writer position in May 2017 by seeking a nomination through Council rather than “going through Human Resources.”


The filing states Bunch “acted outside the scope of his authority by declaring himself as the grant writer’s supervisor” and then “granted approval for the grant writer to have unlimited access to the Accounting Department and to the Accounting Software, Abila…” As such, it alleges Bunch “violated his oath of confidentiality” by granting such access and circumvented the authority of the tribe’s treasurer and executive director of tribal operations (EDTO).


Count 2 states that in May 2017, Bunch took actions to rehire two accounting staff that were terminated by the treasurer and the EDTO.


The alleged actions include Bunch instructing then Attorney General Christina Vaughn to make recommendations for rehiring and placing supervisory authority of the positions under the Human Resources Specialist, meaning the treasurer would not be allowed any supervisory privileges that would allow her to complete her duties as “custodian of funds for the tribe.”


Afterwards when the HR Specialist position became vacant, the filing states Accounting supervisory responsibilities “were taken over by the Chief and Secretary, in direct violation of the UKB Constitution, without the approval of Council, the Supreme Governing Authority of the tribe.”


Count 3 alleges that Bunch is at fault for the tribe’s failure to complete a mandated Single Audit for 2017 because he “failed to properly ensure qualified persons were performing critical duties of a department into which he had inserted himself.” It also alleges that though the Tribal Council approved a resolution to engage an audit firm to help complete the Single Audit in November 2017, Bunch did not send the letter of engagement to the audit firm “until June 2018,” constituting an “act of negligence.”


In February 2018 it also states the accounting director resigned, but was rehired by Bunch without Council approval, violating a resolution “that requires all key personnel to be approved by the Council.” These actions allege that Bunch “has failed to uphold his constitutional oath, ‘to improve the general welfare of the Band, and its members’.”


Count 4 accuses Bunch of placing the EDTO position “within his supervisory control, micromanaging the EDTO’s time and actions” in August 2017. After, the filing asserts Bunch held the employee “in ill regard” and “did not allow the EDTO to supervise the Accounting staff.” Instead, Bunch “placed himself in a supervisory role, along with the Secretary,” and was in “violation of the Constitution that defines each officer’s duties.”


Count 5 stems from actions that took place during a January 7, 2019 Tribal Council meeting in public forum. After the Council was told by a Housing representative that they would have to “lay off employees due to a funding freeze caused by the delinquent 2017 Single Audit,” the Council proceeded to terminate two Accounting employees “during public form, in open session with live feed.”


During this time, the filing states Bunch “failed to take control of the situation as Chairman and allowed the discussion of the termination to occur in open session instead of executive session.” As such, the filing states Bunch “violated his oath of confidentiality to honor the records and business of the tribe, violated the employee’s wright to privacy and failed to properly perform his duties and maintain proper protocol as Chairman.”


Count 6 accuses that Bunch “did unlawfully instruct the council to vote ‘No’ when the motion was made to reappoint a corporate board member to the UKB Corporate Board” during a November 2, 2019 Tribal Council meeting by repeating statements that violated “Section 402 (a) (1), Improper Influence.” (The public can watch the moment in question and decide for themselves by viewing the two-hour mark during the November 2, 2019 Tribal Council video on the UKB Facebook or YouTube accounts.)


Several more counts of improper conduct concerning the UKB Corporate Board and Federal Charter were also outlined in the filing.


Count 1 accuses Bunch of calling a Special Meeting on December 27, 2016 “for the purpose of removing the Chairman of the Corporate Board, violating Section 208 of the Corporate Act of 2015.” While the filing acknowledges the “unlawful act” was overturned by the Attorney General, it accuses Bunch of continuing to “engage in unconstitutional actions and harassment of the individual and the Corporate Board.”


Count 2 also accuses Bunch of calling a special meeting on February 27, 2017 “for the purpose of repealing the Corporate Act of 2015,” which would have put “a standstill” on “pending economic development projects” and “declared himself as the person who would take over these projects, in violation of the UKB Constitution.” The UKB attorney general later overturned the legislation, but the filing states Bunch’s actions were “subversive to the operations of the Corporate Board…”


Count 3 accuses Bunch of conspiring with a Corporate Board member in May and June 2018 to replace two officers from the board “without the benefit of a hearing.” However, the filing states the “attempt of an overthrow of the two officers” was “defeated.”


Count 4 accuses Bunch of “acting outside the scope of his duties” by “attempting to engage others in business ventures” including “bingo vendors.” The filing asserts that Bunch “has hindered and undermined the Corporate Board in their intended purpose to achieve economic development and improve the general welfare of the tribe and its members.”


Count 5 accuses Bunch of distributing “an unofficial financial document to the Tribal Council which he knew to be false, in an attempt to mislead the Tribal Council” and “impugn the integrity of the Chairman and Secretary of the Corporate board by implying that $1.2 million of Corporate Board funds were missing.”


Count 6 accuses Bunch of being in violation of the UKB Constitution and Crimes and Punishment Act of 1990 by passing laws that “are unconstitutional, specifically directed at a single person, violating a tribal member’s Indian Civil Rights…”


The count highlights UKB Resolutions 18-UKB-64, which states “A Corporate Board member can hold one position only,” and 18-UKB-75, which states, “Corporate Board employees cannot serve on the Corporate board.” The filing states these laws were passed when “this tribal member was the only person in that category at the time the resolution was passed.”


Count 7 accuses Bunch of selective application of the resolution 18-UKB-64 during a November 7, 2019 Council Meeting, after an individual was nominated to the Corporate Board who is also currently serving on the UKB Tax Commission. The filing states that Bunch “stated he had no knowledge of such a resolution,” though it asserts that “a Corporate Board member can hold one position only. It does not state committee, board or commission.”


Dotson concludes his filing by stating Bunch, “by such conduct, warrants impeachment and hearing, and removal from office, permanent disbarment from eligibility for future candidacy for any elective or appointive office of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, and warrants permanent banishment from membership from the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma.”


Bunch has not responded specifically to the allegations, but did release a statement on December 3, 2019.


“On November 25, 2019, I was served with Articles of Impeachment papers,” he said. “As your chief, I am taking these accusations very seriously and I will uphold my duties and continue to keep the United Keetoowah Band members informed. I look forward to resolving these issues, clearing my name and continuing to move our tribe forward. Wado.”


The impeachment hearing is set for Tuesday, January 7 at the Jim Proctor Elder and Nutrition Center in Tahlequah at 6 p.m.


For those that cannot attend, the meeting will be livestreamed to the UKB Facebook and YouTube pages. Please note, any discussion that goes into executive session is not allowed to be livestreamed.

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