PEMBROKE — After hearing more than four hours of arguments that included the history of the Lumbee government, the Lumbee Supreme Court on Tuesday was unable to immediately rule on whether the Tribal Council can legally create a tribally designated housing entity to administer housing programs.
Chief Justice Gary Locklear said that the five-member court will render its decision within a week.
“There are too many issues for us to come to a decision tonight,” Locklear said. “Both sides deserve a decision that is fair.”
The courtroom at the tribe’s Housing Complex was flush with spectators interested in Chairman Paul Brooks’ challenge to the council’s efforts to hire Brian Pierson, a Wisconsin lawyer with experience in Indian housing issues, as a consultant on establishing a tribally designated housing entity. The creation of such an entity would take control of federal housing money and administration of housing programs away from the chairman and his administration.
The Tribal Council has voted twice, in November and again earlier this month, to bring Pierson to Pembroke to discuss with council members what must be done to establish the entity and how such an entity would operate.
“We (council) have not yet determined if we even want to establish a TDHE,” Councilwoman Louise Mitchell said during her testimony Tuesday. “At this point in time we have done nothing but try to get all of the information we can.”
Ed Brooks, the chairman’s attorney, argued that the tribe’s constitution gives the executive branch of government the authority to create and administer the tribe’s programs.
“It is the will of the people that programs be administered by the tribal government rather than a corporate structure,” he said during his closing argument. “This is an attempt to overthrow the government. This is treason at the least.”
Through the testimony of four witnesses knowledgeable of the tribe’s constitution and the steps that were taken in its adoption, the attorney painted a picture of a three-branch government with all executive powers, including the implementation of a budget, being the responsibility of one individual — the tribal chairman. The council’s establishment of a tribally designated housing entity, he said, would take from the chairman a responsibility that has been designated to him under the tribe’s constitution.
“This is not a new dispute,” he said. “Time and time again the council and chairman have battled over who will control the direction of the tribe.”
Mark Brooks, the attorney representing the council, countered by arguing that the council’s constitutional authority to enact the tribe’s annual budget gives it the power to allocate and designate money for a specific use, such as a tribally designated housing entity.
“If the council can’t determine where money is to be spent, how can the chairman know where it is supposed to go,” Brooks said. “The chairman can simply veto the appropriation if he doesn’t like it. That’s the balance of power.”
The attorney argued that the council should not be denied the use of tribal funds to hire a consultant who is providing members with information that they need to determine if a program would benefit the Lumbee people.
“The council should be able to go explore any program that may be good for our people,” he said.
Both the executive and legislative branches agree that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allows the establishment of designated housing entities, but those supporting the chairman contend that the Lumbee Constitution is the factor preventing such an entity from being established.
“In my opinion, neither the chairman nor the council can create a designated housing entity,” Tammy Maynor, the tribe’s director of government affairs, said during her testimony. “… The power to create such an entity should be left to the people to do by referendum.”
When asked by the chief justice why he thought the council wanted to possibly create a tribally designated housing entity, Bosco Locklear, the tribe’s housing director, said that the answer is “simple.”
“It’s so (council members) can be in control,” he said. “It’s all about power.”
Judge Locklear, in announcing that the court’s ruling will be rendered within a week, said that he hopes the issue before the court was not just about power.
“Maybe it’s about enthusiastic desire to make our tribe better,” he said. “I like to think that.”