Cherokee council passes act barring nontribal members from executive posts
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
8/15/12 at 4:23 AM
The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council challenged the Chief's Office on Monday, passing an act that requires specific executive positions in the Cherokee Nation to be held by enrolled tribal citizens.
The measure, which passed 9-8, signaled the council's disapproval of Principal Chief Bill John Baker's hiring practices.
Since Baker took office in October, he has filled several key posts with non-Cherokees.
The council approved the measure despite an opinion from Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree that the out-of-committee legislation was unconstitutional and could end up in the tribe's Supreme Court.
Baker said Tuesday that he would veto the legislation.
"The attorney general has issued an opinion stating this legislation is in direct violation of the Cherokee Nation's constitution," he said in a statement. "I swore an oath to uphold and protect the Cherokee Constitution above all else and have no choice but to veto any legislation counter to that oath."
It is unlikely that the split council would be able to overcome Baker's veto. Two-thirds of the council would be needed to override it.
Tribal Councilor Dick Lay, who sponsored the legislation, said Cherokee preference for administration-level positions should be the same as it is for the tribe's construction contracts, which give preference to Cherokee Nation citizens.
"The attorney general has given me his position, and I'm giving mine," Lay said. The decision "belongs in the court. ... I'm going to take my chances with Cherokee judges."
Hembree said Tuesday that he issued an opinion before the council vote because he thought it was appropriate to notify the council that he believes the legislation is unconstitutional.
At a July committee discussion of the legislation, he said it would be premature for him to comment on the legislation before it went through the full council.
"Seeing what passed out of full committee, I thought it was paramount that I let them know that it was an act that would not withstand constitutional muster," Hembree said.
Opponents of the legislation called it "overreaching," saying the council should not tell the chief who he can and cannot employ.
Hembree's opinion also led several councilors to say they wanted to avoid legislation that could infringe on the Cherokee Nation Constitution.
"If this passes and we're not vetoed ... it'll instantly go to court," Tribal Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. "Some fights are worth having ... but I do respectfully disagree that the act is necessary."
Hembree said his official opinion would void the law if it overcomes a promised veto, allowing the council to pursue the issue in court.
The positions specified in the legislation are the chief's general counsel, chief of staff, executive director of communications, executive director of government relations and CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses.
The only Cherokee Nation citizen holding one of those listed positions is Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin Sr.
The Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO position is held by interim CEO Shawn Slaton, who is a non-Indian. Slaton assumed the role after the tribe reached a "separation agreement" for $2.67 million with former CEO David Stewart.
Stewart is a Cherokee citizen, according to a biography on a Cherokee Nation Businesses website.
At a July rules committee meeting discussing the amendment, Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory Jordan said she is on the Cherokee Nation Businesses search committee to hire a new CEO and that the committee has received about 225 applications for the position.
Eight were from Cherokee Nation citizens, she said.
Original Print Headline: Tribal act bars non-Cherokees from exec jobs
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker: "I swore an oath to uphold and protect the Cherokee Constitution above all else and have no choice but to veto any legislation counter to that oath."