Cherokee Press Association
By Donna Hales,
Copyright © 1998 Muskogee Phoenix
Front Page Picture: Byrd, "I believe an elected official who boycotts a meeting boycotts the needs of the Cherokee people."
TAHLEQUAH - Cherokee Chief Joe Byrd chastised six council members who boycotted a special tribal council meeting Wednesday, saying they had violated their oaths of office.
Ten of the 15 councilors must be present to constitute a quorum needed for the council to conduct business.
Byrd said he had been on the council for eight years before becoming chief and had never missed a meeting because a controversial vote was coming up.
"We showed up when it was very tough to make decisions," he said.
Absent councilors later countered Byrd's criticism with a news release. The six - Barbara Starr Scott, Harold DeMoss, Troy Poteete, Paula Holder, William Smoke and Nick Lay -- said they will agree to attend the next regularly scheduled May 11 meeting provided the eight Byrd loyalists on the council:
* Agree to stop proposing to enact legislation violating the separation of powers in the Cherokee constitution.
* Recognize the constitutional authority of the Judicial Appeals Tribunal and its responsibility for the judicial branch.
* Ensure financial accountability and release information to all council members as well as Cherokee citizens.
* Stop the arbitrary attempt to limit debate of council members and setting of agendas to destroy the effectiveness of the governing body. They said they are prepared to "take these issues to the people." They contend Byrd and his loyalists councilors have been reluctant to obey the law and have tried to "legalize their past actions with new legislation."
Byrd said most workers have to show up for work to get paid but absent councilors receive $1,400 a month whether they show up or not.
"Chief Byrd is critical of the council members while he spend upwards of $2 million for attorneys, which the council has not appropriated," the six absentees countered.
The six also refused to attend an April 13 meeting, objecting to a proposal to give a Bureau of Indian Affairs court jurisdiction over Cherokee child welfare cases.
Councilors say their constituents are backing their boycotts.
"There hasn't been one constituent call and say, "Get to those meetings," Lay said.
Ruth Osborne, who attended the Wednesday meeting, was backing the boycott.
"If they show up, they're going to lose a lot more money and they're smart by not showing up," Osborne said.
"Chief Joe Byrd and his Loyalist 8' council members should start spending money on the Cherokee people and stop spending money on attorneys and bonuses," Lay said.
Byrd has been at odds with the tribe's highest court, the Judicial Appeals Tribunal, since tribal marshals executed a search warrant at the tribal complex on Feb. 25, 1997.
Evidence seized resulted in Byrd being charged with two counts of diversion of funds. The charges involve payments to outside attorneys and Byrd loaning a tribal law clerk to the Democratic National Committee.
"The crisis of the government of the Cherokee Nation will end when the law is honored and obeyed," the statement of the six absent councilors said.
But Councilor Bill John Baker said: "It is unbelievable they don't show up to take care of people and the tribe's business." He said there was nothing on the agenda that didn't have something to do with services for Cherokee people.
The six disagreed. The first item on the agenda called for each council member "to be limited to five minutes to speak on each topic and no more than twice."
Baker said the rule could have been set aside by a vote of three-fourths of the council.
Baker said an important agenda item called for a vote to authorize transferring funds from the fuel tax account to the general operating account. The tribe for months made such transfers to keep hot checks from being returned. But that hasn't been the case for about two months, Baker said.
But such a transfer may be needed to pay auditors and computer consultants who are trying to get the tribe's finances "readable and trackable" so monthly financial statements and audits can be completed, Baker said.
Lay countered the fuel tax money is for health care, education and other tribal services. "It is not to be used to float the Cherokee Nation's hot checks," he said.
Byrd loyalist on the council earlier this month passed legislation through committee to end boycotts by sending tribal marshals after the absent councilors and force them to attend, if necessary.
Baker amended the proposal to include a $1,000 fine for councilors absent without advance permission if their attendance is needed to constitute a quorum.
The proposed legislation hasn't been voted on by the full council.
Byrd said if the absent councilors want to "make it a political agenda -- they need to remove themselves from office."
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