The chasm between the Lumbee Tribal Council and Chairman Purnell Swett is getting wider, and if it continues to broaden, someone’s going to get swallowed up. The tribe’s Supreme Court now has been drawn into the dispute by the council, which maintains that Swett overstepped his authority when penning a contract for Tribal Administrator Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend.
But much more worrisome for Swett — if he indeed has acted without authority — would be a recent audit that was conducted by federal officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides funding for the tribe. Swett maintains he asked for the audit in an effort to clear his name, but we have been told by more than one tribal official that the audit was already on the launch pad.
Meanwhile, the tribe tries to conduct business as usual, which included a resolution on Thursday night asking this state’s senators to introduce a federal recognition bill in their chamber similar to Rep. Mike McIntyre’s in the U.S. House. So one hand of the tribe seeks federal recognition while the other strategically positions the banana peel.
The Robesonian has seen Lowry-Townsend’s contract, and among the council’s worries are: an automatic two-year extension unless a notice of termination is provided 90 days before the end of the current term; bonuses at the discretion of the tribal chairman; and annual salary increases above the cost-of-living, also at the whim of the chairman.
So the chairman, in this instance Swett, has tremendous unilateral authority to reward Lowry-Townsend financially — even as the council pushes harder and harder for her termination.
Moreover, when the council wanted a look at Lowry-Townsend’s contract, Swett clenched his fist tighter, and only surrendered it under immense pressure. Perhaps we now know why.
Because of Swett’s history, which is recalled only because of the present, it’s an easy leap to look upon all this with a jaundiced eye. A refresher course: Swett, while superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County in the mid-1990s, was accused of awarding himself a bonus without proper authorization from the Board of Education. That led to his resignation as schools superintendent, an Alford plea in court to the misdemeanor crime of misprision — the misappropriation of money — and the repayment of the money.
It seems to us that the Tribal Council in recent months has been determined to bring transparency to governance, but keeps hitting a brick wall erected by Swett. Only sunlight will make the dark cloud disappear.
And yes, we know what you are thinking. The same thing we are wondering.