The outgoing leader of the Cherokee Nation says he'll miss the work, not the politics. Friday was Chief Joe Byrd's last day in office. Last month, Chad Smith defeated Byrd in a run-off election. Byrd says despite being surrounded by turmoil, he has great memories of his four years as chief.
Byrd says when he took office in 1995, the tribe's financial records were in shambles. "We didn't have a very good system. A lot of our payroll was being done by hand," Byrd noted. "Our system was about to crash." He credits employees for installing a strong accounting system, adding scholarships for teenagers and finding the funding for the new Sequoyah Community Center.
Byrd also praised employees for excelling when he was taking the heat.
He says people who know him will remember his accomplishments instead of the turmoil that surrounded him almost from the first day he sat down as chief. "I've had pot shots at me for four years," he said. "We endured. The people know the truth out there."
The historic Cherokee Courthouse is the symbol of several triumphs and setbacks in the Cherokee Nation's history. Saturday, Chief-Elect Chad Smith will be sworn into office at the courthouse. Smith says it's time to get the tribe back on track.
A longtime critic of Byrd, Smith claims the tribe's finances are still in chaos.
But Byrd says Smith's administration will be in for a surprise when they take office.
"We are going to leave them with almost 12.7 million dollars," he said. "They are going to say, `Wow, where did all this money come from'.
Despite years of criticism from the incoming chief, Byrd told employees good leadership is coming aboard. He says they all planted the fruit and it's now ready to ripen. Byrd says he didn't receive any help when he took office. That's why his transition team has been working closely with Smith's. Byrd says he's looking forward to spending time with his family and pursuing a doctorate degree.