It is likely the ordinance that outlines preference rules for tribally owned businesses will be changed in the near future. The rules affect contract bids for construction projects to office supplies on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina.

The Tribal Employee Rights Office (TERO), now led by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, has been “working diligently to fix this law,” Kevin Jackson, board chair, told the Tribal Council this month, according to the Smoky Mountain News. Jackson said, that the ordinance lacks benefits to vendors and that the changes made will create a more in-depth outline of the rules as to benefit tribal members.

Requirements are set for the licensing of tribally owned businesses through TERO. Anyone who wishes to bid on a project on the Qualla Boundary must abide. What it comes down to is a bid submitted by a TERO vendor within 5 percent of the lowest bid wins the project. If no bid submitted falls within the 5 percent window, TERO vendors have another opportunity to bid.

However, according to tribal member and businessman Ernest Tiger, change to TERO is needed and the reason why he approached the Council this month seeking a revision to the ordinance. Jackson told him at that time work to revise the ordinance was already in progress. Tiger’s criticism focused on Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and the “lack of accountability, transparency and access to business opportunities for TERO employees at casinos.” He said, in particular, the TERO ordinance should contain language that would limit contract terms for non-TERO tribal members, to increase the rebidding opportunity for tribal members. Tiger said, of Harrah’s 530 vendors, only 4 percent, about 23, are TERO certified.

His position is that the departments are being overseen by people who have been given “complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do,” a position supported by Councilmember Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove. McCoy said she is disturbed most by the fact that tribal members, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, are footing the entire bill for the gaming enterprise on the Qualla Boundary while people with no tribal affiliation get bids for work that could be done by members of the tribe.

The casino’s director of planning and analysis, Jeremiah Wiggins, sees things differently, however, and calls the 4 percent number “misleading.” Wiggins said when able, TERO vendors are utilized but that considering the diverse needs of the enterprise suppliers from all over the country are sought. That being said, TERO-certified businesses number slightly over 90, compared with the casinos more than 500 vendors. Wiggins, a Bryson City native, said the casino staff is comprised of a large proportion of people from the Qualla Boundary, as well as the non-tribal Western Carolina region. He said they look for reason to keep the money on the Boundary and in the region.

However, Jackson, along with the board, is still working to strengthen the law, so that tribally owned businesses, as well as individuals that are hired, get preference. He expects to have a draft ordinance prepared and ready for the council to consider within the next month or so.

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