Members of the Lumbee Tribal Council who last week rushed to proclaim the news that housing money had been going unspent since 2007 and an $18 million windfall had piled up that could now be spread around, simply shot themselves in the foot.
That is what happens when you fire first and aim later.
The head cheerleaders were Speaker Pearlean Revels and Councilman McDuffie Cummings, the former town manager of Pembroke. Cummings, who knows more than most about government budgets, on Tuesday tried to clear up the confusion, and his side of the story is in today’s The Robesonian. He makes good points, raises questions that need answering, but his words don’t explain away a public debacle that didn’t have to be.
Revels didn’t return a reporter’s phone call.
Revels and Cummings made the announcement at the Thursday meeting of the Tribal Council, a mistake that could have been easily corrected had members of the tribal administration been in the audience. But they, including Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks, were absent, which tells members most of what they need to know about their tribal government. The chairman, council and administrators don’t get along well enough to spend a single Thursday evening a month trying to pull from the same end of the rope to the benefit of tribal members.
So for a few days there was some uncertainly on whom to believe — council members who were sticking to their guns, or administrators, including the tribal lawyer, who said the mix-up was because HUD had already deposited $13 million that is to be spent during the fiscal year that begins Monday, thus giving off a multimillion-dollar illusion.
We wish there were no harm, no foul — and that damage was not done. But there was.
Firstly to the responsible council members whose decision to speak so quickly raises questions. At best, they come off as being incredibly ill-informed about how the process works, and at worst, their actions suggest, with an election of a tribal chairman looming, an agenda.
Then there are more than 1,000 tribal members who are on a waiting list to get a new home or repair work done on their dwelling who were deceived. The joke was cruelest on the elderly and the disabled, who were promised a spot near the front of the line, but now have learned that their wait will continue.
All for a bunch of nothing.
The Tribal Council, the chairman and administrators would do well to learn from this silly episode and pledge to work together to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. An obvious starting point would be for them to gather in the same room to confront the issues challenging the tribe, whose foremost responsibility is fairly and effectively distributing millions of dollars of housing money each year to enhance the lives of members.
That certainly would be preferred to firing shots — even blanks — at each other through the media.
Seems like a pretty low bar to clear.