PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Chairman Paul Brooks can seek re-election to a third term, but limited the term to two years instead of the normal three.
The court said the tribe’s Elections Board had misinterpreted the Lumbee Constitution when it limited Brooks’ initial term to a single year. The Elections Board on Monday had ruled Brooks could not seek a third term, citing Lumbee law that said a chairman could serve only two consecutive terms.
According to the court ruling, Brooks should have been permitted to run for a three-year term instead of a one-year term when a special election was held in 2011 to fill the final year of former Chairman Purnell Swett’s three-year term after Swett resigned.
Brooks was elected to his own three-year term in November 2012.
Four of the Supreme Court’s five justices — Matthew Scott, Francine Chavis, Tina Dicke and Willie Wendell Lowery — signed the ruling that was penned by Scott. Von Locklear, the court’s chief justice, recused himself because of a potential conflict of interest.
Scott in his decision said that the constitution defines vacancies differently for Tribal Council members and chairmen. Based on the constitution, Scott said, a vacancy for the chairman’s position only occurs with death or disqualification, meaning that a previous court decision that says a term begins when a candidate is sworn into office does not apply to a chairman.
In the case of a council seat becoming vacant, the constitution states that if a vacancy for any reason arises with more than a calendar year remaining in the term, a special election must be held to elect someone to serve the remainder of the term, according to Scott.
“ … It is the Court’s opinion that the Tribal Elections Board erred in requiring Brooks to serve only one year of what should have been a three-year term,” the ruling reads. “In replacing a chairperson who has resigned, the elected replacement shall serve a three-year term and not serve more than two consecutive terms. If the Tribal Elections Board would have identified the mistake before fulfilling his first year of office, Mr. Brooks would have next been on the ballot in November 2014 and if elected his second consecutive term would have ended December 31, 2017.”
The court’s decision comes one day after the tribe’s Elections Board ruled unanimously that Brooks he did not meet the qualifications to be certified as a candidate in the Nov. 17 election.
Elections Board Chairman Sheila Beck said this morning that she wishes the court had addressed in the ruling how the Elections Board is supposed to proceed with the one year remaining on what would have been a regular three-year term if Brooks is re-elected.
“How do we handle the one year left? They are changing the rules,” Beck-Jones said. “There is nothing in the constitution instructing us how to handle a situation like this.
“If Mr. Brooks is elected we will be left hanging. We will be back at this same point two years from now.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.