PEMBROKE — The five-member Lumbee Supreme Court has refused to hear two petitions from tribal members seeking a ruling on whether Chairman Paul Brooks is eligible to run for re-election in November.
The justices decided last week that there is no issue to adjudicate because Brooks has not filed to be on the ballot. The filing period for the chairman and seven seats on the Tribal Council begins Aug. 24 and closes Sept. 18.
Brooks did announce in an advertisement published in The Robesonian on Sunday his intention to seek re-election.
“As of the drafting of this order, neither the current chairman nor any other candidate has filed for the office of chairman for the next tribal election cycle,” the court wrote in response to the petition filed by Councilwoman Anita Hammonds Blanks. “It appears the petitioner is requesting the court to give an opinion on an issue that there is currently no issue for the court to decide at this time.
“Any decision rendered at this time would only be speculative and based on assumptions. This court is not an advisory council or an advisory body, but rather a branch of government created to adjudicate issues actually in dispute and to adjudicate said issues in accordance with the Lumbee Constitution,” the dismissal order reads. “The Court holds at this time that there is no issue ripe for review … .”
In her petition, Hammonds Blanks asked the court to issue a ruling on exactly what the Lumbee Constitution considers a “term” for Lumbee elected officials. According to the Lumbee Constitution, elected officials can only serve two consecutive terms.
“It is a simple petition seeking a much needed clarification from this court on the rule of law that governs our tribe,” Hammonds Blanks said in her petition.
Brooks and others have argued that the final year Brooks served to complete the unexpired term of former Chairman Purnell Swett should not be considered a term. Afterward Brooks was elected in November 2012 to his current three-year term.
A couple of days before Hammonds Blanks submitted her petition to the court, a petition was submitted by Eric Locklear, a self-proclaimed community activist. In his petition, which had circulated on Facebook, Locklear asked the court specifically to determine Brooks’ eligibility to seek another term.
Locklear referred to a 2004 Lumbee Supreme Court ruling that defines a “term” as when an individual files for a tribal office, wins an election, and then is sworn into office. According to Locklear, as of Monday night he had not officially received the order from the court dismissing his petition.
“While I had hoped to bring this matter to a close without a hearing, it appears now that (Paul) Brooks will have to appear before the court to have the previous ruling dismissed,” Locklear said. “That previous ruling prohibits the chairman for running for office again.”
Alex Baker, the tribe’s former public relations director, said there is also an earlier court opinion that defined a term the same way as the 2004 decision. That case, Sherman Brooks vs. the Lumbee Supreme Court, set a precedent, Baker said.
“This law has been on the books so long that it is now Lumbee law and Lumbee custom,” he said. “The law just needs to be enforced.”
Sheila Beck Jones, who chairs the tribe’s five-member Elections Board, said that Brooks will be treated just as any other candidate when he officially files his candidacy.
“For me to speculate what will happen is putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “No one is officially a candidate until they have filed all of the paper work. We (the board) will review all of the candidate applications to determine eligibility. If something is wrong with the application, the candidate will not be certified.”
Beck-Jones said that if a candidate is ruled ineligible by the elections board that person has the option to appeal that decision to the Lumbee Supreme Court.
“I hope any legal action will not delay the election,” she said.
According to Beck-Jones, about $40,000 is still needed to fund the November elections. An additional $6,000 has already been allotted to the elections board by the Tribal Council and is being used to purchase equipment and replenish other supplies necessary for running an election.
“People aren’t aware of how much it costs to run an election,” Beck-Jones said. “For instance, it cost us $1.45 for each absentee envelope we send out. Last year, in a small election, we sent out 145 absentee ballots. This year, with a chairman’s race, we could need as many as 600 to 1,000 absentee ballot packages.”
The Elections Board, which had been without an office for several months, recently agreed to rent space in the building at COMtech Business Park that houses the tribe’s Veterans Service Office. The board was forced to move from its most recent office in a building behind the tribal housing complex on N.C. 711 because federal housing dollars cannot be used for election purposes.