PEMBROKE — The Board of Elections for the Lumbee Tribal Government has deemed Paul Brooks ineligible to seek re-election as tribal chairman, but a tribal spokesman said late Monday that he believes the Lumbee Supreme Court will overturn the Elections Boards decision, possibly as early as Wednesday.
“The administration was absolutely certain that the Elections Board was not going to certify the chairman as a candidate for re-election. That was certain from statements the Elections Board chairman has made to the newspaper,” Gary Strickland, the tribe’s director of communications said. “But now the issue automatically goes back to the Supreme Court, and as the court has said, there will be no additional hearing on the issue. A written opinion will be issued immediately.”
The Board of Elections made its determination that Brooks was ineligible for re-election at a meeting Monday morning. The Supreme Court on Aug. 25 had ordered the five-member board to meet within three business days of Brooks’ filing as a candidate to review his application and determine if, based on elections criteria, he is eligible to seek re-election. Brooks filed Wednesday.
“We met and now it’s out of the Elections Board’s hands,” said Sheila Beck-Jones, the board’s chairman. “We made our decision. Now we have to just wait and see what happens.”
In the Board of Elections’ denial of certification report filed with the Supreme Court, board members said that their decision not to certify Brooks as a candidate was based on the tribe’s constitution, Lumbee custom that governs tribal members, and a previous Supreme Court ruling that found completion of a partial unexpired term counted toward the constitution’s limit of two consecutive terms for elected officials. The board also said its decision was based on the fact that the November 2011 chairman’s election was a special election to fill the unexpired term of Purnell Swett, who resigned the job..
“It is our belief that Mr. Brooks was well aware of the special elections proceedings and freely ran and won that seat knowing that he was fulfilling the time that remained in the term that ended Dec. 31, 2012,” the board stated in its report to the court. “Mr. Paul Brooks then freely ran and won the seat in the 2013 election, which is two consecutive terms.”
“People have tried to make this personal,” Beck-Jones said. “But we feel we followed the constitution. We would have done this no matter who was the candidate. We ruled and based our decision on facts … . It is not our job to define term limits. It is our job to determine if one is eligible to run in an election or not.”
Brooks is the only candidate affected by the court ruling. All other candidates will be certified under a longstanding elections policy of certifying candidates shortly after the end of the candidate filing period.
The candidate filing period ends Sept. 18.
Beck-Jones told The Robesonian on Monday that she does not feel it was fair to other candidates who have filed for election to certify Brooks before everyone else.
“I think this gives an unfair advantage to Brooks over the other candidates that aren’t certified until the end of the filing period,” she said. “I know the court has the authority to do things like this, but in this case I don’t think the equality of the candidates was protected.”
On Aug. 25 the Supreme Court heard a petition from Brooks seeking a ruling on what defines an elected term. Brooks contends that his being elected to finish out the remaining one-year of Swett’s term should not be considered a full term.
The Lumbee Tribe’s constitution states that the chairman and Tribal Council members cannot be elected to serve more than two consecutive three-year terms.
Lumbee Supreme Court Justice Matthew Scott said during the petition hearing that if Brooks were found ineligible to seek re-election by the Elections Board, the court would use its authority to “quickly” issue a written ruling based on testimony heard at Tuesday’s hearing.
But Strickland is confident that the ruling will be in Brooks’ favor.
“No matter how you look at it, one (year) plus three (years) doesn’t add up to six,” Strickland said. “I think the court will act quickly and we will know something by Wednesday.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.