While the news last week that elected officials of the Lumbee Tribe were receiving a $550 a month stipend illegally will be seen as the latest example of local politicians turning their office into an ATM, we believe it bodes well for the tribe in the long run.
We will explain in a moment. First, a review.
Tribal officials have been told that the stipend is not a permitted use of housing dollars that are provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This isn’t the first time the tribal government has been told it could not pay council members and the chairman with HUD dollars.
The same directive came from HUD in 2006, yet the Tribal Council not only continued to pay its members and the chairman, the stipend has grown from $250 a month in 2006 to $550. According to a letter HUD, that adds up to $735,000 of housing money that has gone for stipends instead of its intended purpose, which is to assist tribal members with housing needs.
It’s unclear whether HUD will demand that the money be repaid, but we have a suggestion: Go for it — but don’t withhold housing money; instead, demand repayment from those who profited.
The news comes on the eve of a decision that is expected Monday on whether or not the tribe will be able to hold an election on Nov. 12 for seven council seats. Chairman Paul Brooks and the Tribal Council, instead of sitting down for peace talks, just keep raising the ante.
Brooks insists there is no money in the budget to hold the election, saying that $26,000 isn’t needed anyway, and the filing fees can cover most of the cost and the rest can be found underneath the cushions of the couch. The Tribal Council on Thursday responded by voting 13-5 to petition the tribe’s Supreme Court to remove Brooks from office.
And meanwhile, Washington, D.C., watches, and opponents of federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe exchange high-fives.
Our prediction is that on Monday, the director of the tribe’s Board of Elections will announce that the Nov. 12 election has been suspended until money can be found to pay for it. That means the seven sitting council members whose district seats were up for election will continue to serve, assuming they want to after losing a $550-a-month incentive for their public service.
We have long believed that the 21-member Tribal Council is too large, and that the 50,000-member tribe would be better served by a tighter council, one with fewer egos. The loss of the stipend seems a perfect opportunity to shrink the council, and the possibility also exists that there won’t be enough candidates to fill 21 seats.
Going forward, it will be clear that those who seek a seat on the Tribal Council or the chairmanship will be motivated not by a monthly stipend but by a desire to serve the Lumbee people. We believe that will result in a tribal government that is less egocentric and more service-minded.
Perhaps the idea will catch on with other local boards.