TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – After a 6-1/2 hour hearing Jan. 8, tribal councilors opted to censure or "reprimand" United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Chief Joe Bunch in the wake of impeachment proceedings, rather than remove him from office.
The UKB Tribal Council held a special meeting Tuesday night to decide the outcome of the Articles of Impeachment filed against Bunch in November by a tribal councilor.
The two Articles of Impeachment, with a total of 13 counts, accused Bunch of: “misconduct, for failure to abide by the UKB Constitution and Bylaws, and violating certain sections of the Crimes & Punishment Act of 1990; and violations of the UKB Federal Corporate Charter, Corporate Act of 2015, and sections of the Crimes & Punishment Act of 1990.”
Assistant Chief Jamie Thompson led the meeting as acting chief. Also present were Bunch, his attorney, the tribe’s treasurer, secretary, and nine councilors.
The hearing began with UKB Attorney General Klint Cowan reading the rules of impeachment, and then the Articles of Impeachment.
Each side was given the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses, and ask questions of the council. Dotson did not have evidence to present, saying he was “satisfied with the written evidence as presented,” meaning the Articles of Impeachment.
When Bunch’s attorney later asked about Dotson’s lack of evidence, Dotson said when he had been handed the papers, he read them, and signed them.
“There was no way I could know if they were true,” said Dotson.
The tribal council went into “executive session” for over three hours, and returned to vote on each count. They OK'ed combining counts 6 and 7 of Article 2, but Bunch’s attorney said that was a violation of due process.
The attorney had another objection after the vote on the first count. With 12 people voting, the first count had an outcome of eight for impeachment, and four for no. Thompson said it passed with a majority, but the lawyer said a two-thirds vote was needed.
“We are going by precedent set at the last impeachment,” said Thompson, referring to the impeachment of Bunch's predecessor, the late George Wickliffe. “You’ll be able to argue later.”
The same was said when the attorney objected to Thompson's voting.
Of the 13 counts, five received enough votes for impeachment: Counts 1, 3, and 6 under Article 1; and Counts 3 and 7 under Article 2.
The remedy to the impeachment was to issue a letter of censure, but not remove Bunch from office.
Bunch has seven calendar days to appeal the counts of impeachment with the UKB Court. If overturned, the impeachment charges stricken from the record.
The UKB consists of members who can prove a quarter or more Cherokee by blood.