Court: Recall group can get names of tribal voters

By: By Bob Shiles - [email protected]

PEMBROKE — There has been move movement in the effort to recall Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr.

The Lumbee Supreme Court on Tuesday overruled an administrative court decision and ordered that the tribe’s Board of Elections hand over the names of voters in the tribe’s November 2015 elections to the representative of a group wanting to recall Godwin.

The court, after hearing arguments in the case, ordered Sheila Beck, Elections Board chair, to release the names of more than 5,000 voters who cast ballots in the 2015 elections to Purcell Jones Jr., who petitioned the court for the information. Jones is a member of the group Seeing is Believing, which is circulating petitions to recall the tribal chairman. Beck has until Aug. 28 to comply.

The court order does not include the release of other voter information, such as addresses, tribal enrollment numbers or signatures.

Jones said Tuesday that he dropped his request to the court that Godwin and Tribal Administrator Freda Porter be censured and publicly reprimanded, and that Beck be removed from her position as Elections Board chair.

Obtaining the list of voter names will “make it easier and faster” to collect the number of signatures needed to call for a recall election, said Reba Scott, a member of Seeing is Believing.

“Even without the list of names we would continue to circulate the petitions,” she said. “It would just take us longer to get the necessary number of signatures.”

The request for the list of voters was not so much for the recall effort as being about the right of the people to be heard, she said.

“This is about tribal business,” Scott said. “It’s not about a personal vendetta.”

The argument that voter information is needed for the recall of an elected public official should be disregarded, Beck said.

“The recall process is not meant to be easy. If Lumbee tribal members wish to recall (anyone), they will seek out a petition and a recall committee would not have to shake the bushes to get the required signatures,” she said. “The Supreme Court, I believe, ruled in error as there is nowhere, absolutely nowhere in the Lumbee Constitution or in the hundreds of ordinances we have where it states that the Elections Board shall provide a list of voters for any reason without the members’ approval. As a matter of fact, the Constitution and ordinances protect the privacy and identity of its members. Any change in our Constitution must be made by the people, not by four Supreme Court judges.”

Beck added that members of the Elections Board are not attorneys.

“We are thrown into the courts and always at the mercy of the court to make the right decision,” she said.

Only those who voted in the November 2015 election, when Godwin defeated former Chairman Paul Brooks and three other candidates, can cast a ballot in a recall election. According to the tribe’s constitution, 10 percent of the total number who voted in the election must sign a petition in order for the recall process to continue. There were about 5,500 votes cast, meaning 550 signatures are needed to start the process.

The petitions that have been circulating for several months allege Godwin has used tribal security officers for personal security during funeral services, has used federal funds to pay Housing Department employees to travel on matters not related to housing, has used housing funds to pay dancers to perform at events outside tribal territory in violation of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit, and has used Housing Department staff to provide housing services at Campbell Soup, where his private business, Two Hawk Employment Service, has a contract to provide temporary employees. Others charge that Godwin’s administration has misappropriated funds and “people are not getting the tribal services they deserve.”

By Bob Shiles

[email protected]

triBob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

triBob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.