PEMBROKE — Lumbee Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks has asked the tribe’s Supreme Court to issue a ruling on what constitutes a “term” of elected office so he can have clarity on any re-election bid.
Respondents named in the petition include the tribe’s Elections Board and its chairman, Sheila Beck-Jones.
And on Wednesday, Beck-Jones, representing the Elections Board, filed a petition asking the court to dismiss Brooks’ petition or wait to hear the case until the Board of Elections is provided money for legal counsel.
“I don’t know why we are being named in this petition,” Beck-Jones said. “We have nothing to do with this at this time. We don’t have a dog in this fight yet.”
The filing period for the November election for chairman and seven seats on the Tribal Council does not open until Aug. 24 and ends Sept. 18.
Beck-Jones said the five-member Elections Board will review each of the candidate applications and determine eligibility.
The Supreme Court late last month refused to hear two petitions from tribal members seeking a ruling on whether Brooks is eligible to run for re-election in November. The justices decided that there is no issue to adjudicate because Brooks has not yet filed.
The Lumbee Constitution states that elected officials can serve only two three-year consecutive terms. In two previous Supreme Court cases the justices have ruled that a partial term counts as a full three-year term.
In his petition, Brooks argues that the final year he served to complete the unexpired term of former Chairman Purnell Swett should not be considered a term. After serving out Swett’s term, Brooks was elected in November 2012 to his current three-year term.
“A term cannot be shared by two persons,” Brooks’ petition reads.
Brooks contends that a court decision is necessary now so that a “cloud over his eligibility to serve as chairman” can be lifted. Unlike other potential candidates, he said, he has filed an affidavit with the Elections Board stating his intent to seek re-election; put together a campaign organization, including workers to carry out the campaign; received campaign donations; and purchased advertising announcing his plans to seek re-election.
“Postponing a decision casts doubt in the minds of would-be campaign workers, campaign contributors and voters, as these supporters will be hesitant to support a candidate involved in open litigation and potentially could be precluded from being placed on the November 2015 ballot,” Brooks says in his petition.
Beck-Jones insists that the court should dismiss Brooks’ petition based on the same reasoning it used to dismiss the two earlier petitions. She also contends that if the court does not outright dismiss the case, it should at least delay any action until her board is provided by the tribe’s administration, led by Brooks, at least $5,000 to pay for an attorney.
“We don’t even have the money to run an election,” said Beck-Jones. “How are we supposed to pay for legal representation?”
Beck-Jones told The Robesonian recently that about $40,000 is still needed to fund the November elections.
“This board has been, is now, and continues to be grossly underfunded, resulting in significant challenges in trying to conduct timely and credible elections,” Beck-Jones said in her petition.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.