Regrettably, this state’s laws regarding public records do not apply to the Lumbee Tribe. That doesn’t, however, make it in the best interest of the tribe to continue the clandestine practices it has been known for over the years.
There isn’t enough space here for but a fraction of an inventory of examples, but these are easily recalled.
— The tribe briefly once banned the media from its meetings, saying they were closed to any except tribal members.
— The contract deal with Lewin International was hatched in private, and then blew up on the tribe, undercutting its best chance ever at federal recognition.
— Secrecy shrouded the contract of former Tribal Administrator Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend.
— In general, when this newspaper seeks information from the tribal government, we run into locked doors, not welcome mats.
There are many reasons that the tribe should embrace transparency.
The tribe’s No. 1 goal of federal recognition is not furthered by secrecy, which plays poorly with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including its biggest cheerleader, U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre. The tribe exists solely to serve its membership, and in operating out of the public view, there can be no guarantee that decisions are being made with the members’ best interest in mind. The tribe receives millions of dollars a year in taxpayer money to fuel its programs, and it follows that people who pay those taxes — not just tribal members — should know the money is being spent according to law.
These are concepts that Chairman Sharon Hunt highlighted when she spoke during her inauguration.
Said Hunt: “… Our tribal members need and deserve nothing less than a government that responds to the needs and concerns of tribal members. While our government has successfully implemented programs and services, our biggest challenge is to restore confidence and by all measures, we have to be more accountable and more transparent in order to accomplish this.”
But on Tuesday, we published a story about another newspaper’s failed attempt to get information concerning the tribe’s response to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that found housing funds had been misdirected. After we published the story, two tribal officials contacted us and said that nothing had been denied, that the newspaper had not properly submitted its request in writing as required by tribal policy.
But we took that opportunity to submit some of our own questions. We await the response.
We have no reason to doubt Hunt’s sincerity when she highlighted the need for transparency at the inauguration. Sunshine, it’s been said, is the best disinfectant. We respect protocol, and understand that the tribe needs times to review our questions and to answer them.
But we expect that to happen. When it does, our readers will be the second to know.