“A memo notified Martin on Oct. 31 that he was being transferred to manager of tribal day care and stating his position is no longer available to him,” said Rob Saunooke, Martin’s attorney.
On Nov. 2, Martin received another letter from the Tribal Finance Department saying that “due to lack of response, they consider his actions as resignation,” Saunooke said.
Martin is currently on administrative leave.
Martin’s sudden removal from his position at the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s official newspaper is linked , Saunooke claims, to his disagreement with Principal Chief Michell Hick’s executive order which called for the removal of the newspaper’s anonymous opinion section, “Rants and Raves.” The section allowed readers to anonymously offer opinions on any tribal issue, and there were often more than a dozen one-line submissions each week in the One Feather. Some were critical of the chief and other tribal entities.
“This is retaliation by the chief’s office,” Saunooke said. “Joe disagreed with the chief’s executive order.”
On Oct. 1, Hicks issued an executive order to remove the “Rants and Raves” section from the newspaper. The sudden removal of the popular anonymous opinion column came after Hicks declared the column to be slanderous.
The chief’s decision upset some tribal members who have said the order violated their freedom of speech rights. The case went before tribal council members last month and council members upheld Hicks’ order.
Since then Martin has criticized the Chief’s and tribal council decision. He has publicized his opinion and was quoted in several articles that appeared in the Asheville’s Citizen-Times.
Tribal officials cited Martin’s actions to justify his termination, Saunooke said.
Tribal officials said they would not comment on Martin’s removal since it is a personnel issue.