A special meeting of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council was canceled Friday due to lack of a quorum, preventing the appointment of three key positions.
At stake were the confirmations of Susan Plumb as election commissioner, Diane Hammons as attorney general, and Sharon Wright as marshal. The agenda also included an act to modify the tribe’s election code.
During a special rules committee meeting Thursday, July 28, all three appointments were passed to full council. But the act amending the election code could not be added to the agenda, as it did not garner the required two-thirds vote of the committee.
Among those absent from the meeting were Buel Anglen and David Thornton, who were both hospitalized. According to Speaker of the Council Meredith Frailey, Anglen was having tests run, and Thornton had undergone cardiac bypass surgery earlier in the week. Other councilors absent were principal chief candidate Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief-elect Joe Crittenden, Tina Glory-Jordan, Curtis Snell, Jodie Fishinghawk, and Chuck Hoskin Jr.
“We do not have a quorum,” said Frailey. “I’m very disappointed that we don’t have a quorum to do the work and be the voice of the Cherokee people. We’re elected and we get paid to do your work. When we don’t attend meetings for the purpose of not having a quorum, it’s wrong. It’s very sad you had to come here and experience this, and I apologize for all of us.”
Shortly after Friday’s meeting was slated to begin, a press release was issued by the Baker campaign office, in which he – along with Glory-Jordan, Snell, Fishinghawk and Hoskin – gave reasons for their absence.
Baker said the meeting, called by Principal Chief Chad Smith at the request of Frailey, was “an attempt to break the law.”
“The Tribal Council rules are crystal clear that an issue cannot be addressed by the council unless it has first been considered and passed out of a council committee,” said Baker. “In a desperate last act, Chad Smith has called a council meeting and blatantly and illegally placed an item he calls election reform on the agenda. But this is not [a] reform bill, it is a last-ditch attempt to move votes to his column.”
Hoskin said he takes his obligation to attend council meetings seriously, but felt Smith’s special council meeting was a political power grab that had to be stopped.
“I took an oath to the Cherokee Constitution, not to Chief Smith,” said Hoskin. “This meeting is about doing his bidding; it violates the law and it is an abuse of power that I cannot condone.”
Shortly thereafter, Crittenden released his own statement.
“I took an oath to defend the laws and constitution of the Cherokee Nation and the United States,” said Crittenden. “I will not mark one of my last official acts as a tribal council representative for District 2 to be a violation of our own laws and constitution. Chief Smith has left me no choice, and thus I cannot attend this illegal meeting. To do otherwise would destroy and weaken the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council for future generations and give the chief, whoever that may be, even more power over the people.”
Todd Hembree, attorney for the tribal council, on Thursday released an opinion about the addition of the act to the agenda. He pointed out that in the past, the council has historically ruled to send such agenda amendments back to committee for approval prior to going to a vote of the full council.
Hembree also said the only way the act should be considered would be to establish a two-thirds vote of the council Friday before proceeding with the amendment. While he indicated considering the matter without committee approval could set a dangerous precedent, he did not call Friday’s meeting illegal.
“Allowing a principal chief to place an item for consideration at a tribal council meeting without that item going through the process approved by the tribal council can easily be considered a violation of the separation of powers doctrine,” said Hembree. “To allow the executive branch to circumvent the tribal council’s established rules and procedures could set a dangerous precedent in this instance and any future occurrences of this nature. The rules of procedure allows for a process for full, thoughtful debate on all legislative items and that process should not be changed.”
Smith attended Friday’s meeting, but had to leave early for another engagement. He released a statement Friday evening saying he has full authority under tribe’s constitution to call special meetings under extraordinary circumstances. He criticized Baker for failing to attend the meeting.
“Last week, David Thornton showed up to a council committee meeting while he was having a heart attack, because he thought this was so important,” said Smith. “He and fellow council member Buel Anglen are in the hospital today, but Bill John Baker is just down the street and won’t come to work for the Cherokee people. He won’t work for the Cherokee people to improve the election law that he’s been complaining about for weeks. Most Cherokees, if they flat-out refuse to show up for work, they get fired.”
Section 7 of the Cherokee Nation Constitution states: “The principal chief may, on extraordinary occasions, convene the council at the seat of government pursuant to Article VI, Section 5, and such notice and other laws as may be prescribed by the council... Before the extraordinary meetings may be legally sufficient to conduct business, a quorum of the council must be present.”
A second special meeting of the council has been scheduled for 3 p.m., Friday, Aug. 12, but none of the items on the Aug. 5 meeting’s agenda can be included, as law requires 10 days’ notice to the public. The next opportunity for the council to consider the appointments and election law reform will be Monday, Aug. 22, eight days after Smith leaves office. Crittenden, as deputy chief, will serve as interim chief until the Sept. 24 special election is held.
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