The General Council of the Catawba Indian Nation voted Saturday to remove Chief Donald Rodgers from his post, citing as justification abuses of his position and of tribal funds.
The council voted 72-32 to terminate Rodgers after a petition signed by more than 180 members of the Catawba Nation requested Rodgers' removal for several alleged abuses, tribal members confirmed.
Petitioners accuse Rodgers of at least six infractions, including receiving pay raises and using tribal funds to pay for health benefits to him and his family totaling more than $8,000 a year without getting the general council's approval.
"Today was a historic day in Catawba," said tribal member Brian Harris. "Today we stood up and said no more, you're not going to abuse us anymore and you're not going to take our vote away," he said.
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Harris said the general council has been left out of the decision-making process.
"They're taking the general council out of everything. When we're in session, we have total authority over everything they do. They've gotten away from that," he said.
Rodgers said the tribe's executive committee has the authority to handle day-to-day business, which includes making decisions about raises and insurance.
Jason Harris, tribal treasurer and member of the executive committee said the committee never approved the benefits Rodgers' received.
"I have documents defending myself against these allegations," Rodgers said, saying the allegations against him are a personal vendetta.
"I have done plenty for this tribe. This tribe has come a long way in the last three years," he said, Rodgers said he was hopeful the conflict would not cast the tribe in a bad light.
"When Don first started doing things he shouldn't have done as a chief, he didn't want to be honest with us up front, so we did some digging ourselves," said 75-year-old tribal member Bobby Blue.
"It had to be done," said tribal member Nancy Gunn of Rodgers' termination. "There were some actions that were taken that the general council was not included upon, and our guidelines are just as strict as anyone else's."
Questioning the vote
Rodgers said the general council's vote to remove him goes against the tribe's constitution, a claim the Catawba Nation's executive committee backed on Saturday after the vote.
A release from the executive committee said, "a majority of the Executive Committee believe that the process used today violates the Tribe's Constitution and is therefore not valid."
When asked why the vote was unconstitutional, Assistant Chief Gene Blue, a member of the executive committee, said he could not say anything more than what was released in the statement. But Rodgers, and some of the tribal members who voted against him, said the question centers on how many people participated in the vote.
Jason Harris was a lone voice on the executive committee, he said.
"I think the general council when in session have the authority to do what they did," he said.
The full committee intends to meet with Catawba members "to address the procedural issues around the vote as well as their underlying concerns," the release said.
According to tribal member Melissa Harris, the general council decided on Oct. 23 they would call a special meeting to elect a new tribal chief. In the interim, they tasked Assistant Chief Blue with taking over the chief's responsibilities.