PEMBROKE — Although time is running out, a chief supporter of a smaller Lumbee Tribal Council says there is still time before the November elections to amend the tribe’s constitution to allow for the council to be reduced from 21 members to seven.
That opinion, however, isn’t held by those who say they are responsible for “protecting the integrity” of the election process.
“Using the written language of our constitution, it could be approved within 30 days,” Eric Locklear, a frequent critic of the tribe and the leader of an effort to shrink the council. “This (smaller council) is what tribal members want. The only people who are not on board is the 21 (council members). I’m capturing the energy and vision of the people, and we are going to make this happen. We will overcome any obstacles that hinder the vision of the Lumbee people.”
Locklear told The Robesonian that he intends to submit a petition to the tribe’s Board of Elections by Sept. 15 with more than the 750 signatures he says are required to have a special election on the question of amending the constitution to allow for a seven-member Tribal Council. The constitution allows a special election be held on constitutional amendments if 5 percent of the tribe’s eligible voters ages 18 and older petition the Board of Elections to do so.
Locklear said that he has been given an “unofficial” number of 15,000 eligible voters from the Board of Elections, meaning that at least 750 of the signatures recently collected on petitions must be valid to result in a special election. According to Locklear, twice that number of signatures has been collected on petitions.
Locklear contends that if the Board of Elections follows constitutional guidelines for verifying signatures and advertising the special election, the election could be held almost immediately. If the amendment is approved by the voters, the Tribal Council would still have time to redraw districts before the annual tribal elections are held on Nov. 13.
“We want to get this done quickly,” Locklear said. “No one wants to elect a (21-member) council in November and then have to go back and elect a (smaller) council in January.”
Although he would not name those directly behind the petition drive, Locklear said that there are about 10 individuals actively working toward the goal of reducing the size of the council.
“These players are not government officials,” he said. “Their interest is in the economy and economic development of the community. They have the economic and governmental interests of the Lumbee people at the forefront.”
Pearlean Revels, the council’s speaker, refused to comment about the petition and what it might mean for the future of the council. She referred a reporter to the Board of Elections.
According to the tribe’s constitution, the council could speed up a vote on the proposed amendment. Council members could request the Board of Elections to move ahead with a referendum and give tribal members the chance to vote on the issue without going through the petition process.
Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks said that as the leader of the tribe, he supports whatever size council tribal members choose.
“This is an initiative led by the people,” Brooks said. “I support whatever the people want.”
Brooks did say, however, that individual tribal members who have discussed the issue with him have all been in favor of a smaller council.
Carvicous Barfield, chairman of the tribe’s five-member Board of Elections, isn’t as confident as Locklear that a referendum can be held before November. She briefly outlined for The Robesonian the lengthy steps that the Lumbee constitution call for in holding such a referendum. She also said that there is no money available to pay for such a referendum.
“Right now we are in the first stage of the process. There is still a great deal of work to be done,” she said. “The next few weeks will determine if a special election can be held before November. The process is being followed based on the (tribe’s) constitution.”
Barfield said that before any special election is held tribal members need to be educated on what the amendment to the constitution means.
“Until the people are educated, there will be no vote,” she said. “That’s part of the process. People have to be educated one-on-one. There have to be public meetings.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.