Council gives chief power to negotiate ‘life and death’ contracts
Tribal Councilors and administration officials remotely take part in a Tribal Council meeting on April 27. Legislators have taken social distancing steps due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation policymakers – some stationed at home – met for brief meetings on April 27 to pass COVID-19-related measures that included a resolution giving the principal chief authority to execute certain contracts during the pandemic.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. explained the request in an April 23 video posted to the tribe’s Facebook page, noting he had “worked with all 17 council members for the last two weeks to find a way to use their constitutional authority to temporarily expedite certain contracts” related to COVID-19.
“The Council understands, as I do, that in this crisis, time is of the essence,” he said. “We all understand that quickly obtaining goods and services in this crisis, such as medical supplies and food, can mean the difference between life and death.”
The last time the Council approved a similar measure, the tribe was building a health center in Tahlequah, and “millions of dollars were at stake,” Hoskin said.
“Now, lives are at stake,” he added.
The resolution, 20-024, was approved 16-1 with a dissenting vote from Dist. 3 Tribal Councilor Wes Nofire, who told his peers that “a lot of citizens have been questioning the constitutionality of it.”
“It’s really hard for me to vote against something that I believe can be necessary for our citizens in the time of a pandemic,” he said. “I regretfully have to vote ‘no’ even though I support the idea of what we’re trying to do here.”
The Council also approved two budget amendments that “bring forward millions of dollars in emergency funds to help us as a nation respond to and recover from COVID-19,” said Hoskin.
Legislative Acts 20-022 and 20-026 increase the tribe’s $986 million comprehensive operating budget by more than $60 million based on federal and other grants.
To open the April 27 Tribal Council meeting, legislators approved an act that allows for remote attendance “in the event of extraordinary circumstances.”
“Times have changed,” Dist. 9 Tribal Councilor Mike Shambaugh said. “There are so many things that we can’t anticipate happening. This is kind of a no-brainer for me. We need to stay safe.”
The Council cancelled its March meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the April meetings, some legislators met at the Tribal Complex while others attended remotely via web cams “under these very unusual circumstances,” as described by Council Speaker Joe Byrd.
Those who met at the complex sat at individual tables apart from each other and wore surgical masks.