PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Supreme Court has agreed with Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks that the Lumbee Tribal Council does not have the authority to create a tribally designated housing entity.
In its ruling written by Chief Justice Gary Locklear and issued Tuesday, the five-member court unanimously ruled that the “Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is barred from creating a tribally designated housing entity subject to an amendment to the Lumbee Constitution allowing the same.
“Further, the Tribal Council is barred from spending tribal (as opposed to self-generated) funds or directing the tribal chairman to spend tribal funds for the exploration of TDHE,” the ruling states.
The court also chastised the chairman and council members, urging cooperation.
“Finally, this court deems itself to have the inherent power to address the conduct of the tribal chairman and the Tribal Council when they appear before this court, thus the chairman is admonished to cooperate with the council with respect to reasonable requests of information and reasonable access to the tribe’s financial records, and the council is admonished to refrain from overreaching during its enactment of the tribal budget.”
A hearing on the issue of whether the Tribal Council has the authority to create the housing entity and use tribal funds to hire a consultant to help establish such an entity was held Jan. 29. Chairman Brooks had challenged the council’s efforts to hire Brian Pierson, a Wisconsin lawyer with experience in Indian housing issues as a consultant.
The chairman’s attorney had argued that the tribe’s constitution gives the executive branch of government the authority to create and administer the tribe’s programs. The attorney for 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.
“This is a victory for our tribal members, and those who voted and believed in our Constitution,” Brooks said in a brief statement. “I commend the court for its diligence in seeking out the issue and settling this. This action shows to all that our constitution, and the checks and balances contained therein, are working and that we are a functioning government.”
The Tribal Council had split over the issue, with a majority pushing to hire the consultant to explore the possibility of an entity. But even supporters had not committed publicly to establishing such an entity, which would have drawn housing money away from the tribe’s administration.
“I accept the ruling,” said Tribal Speaker Pearlean Revels, one of the most vocal critics of the administration. “We will live with it.”
Locklear said that the issues reviewed by the court were complex. Wording the court’s decision was no easy task, he said.
“I did the best I could,” said the judge. “But there are still underlying currents that haven’t been addressed.”
Locklear identified the “underlying currents” as personalities and desire for power.
“I believe I have covered everything so that they have a better understanding of what the problems are,” Locklear said. “… I think Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, said it best. ‘I can explain it to you but I can’t comprehend it for you.’”