There’s a reason that the Lumbee constitution mimics that of the United States, providing a checks-and-balance system through three branches — the executive, legislative and judicial. The checks-and-balance system is the best form of government mankind has yet imagined, enabling governance while providing safeguards that prevent any of the branches from grabbing and then clinging to too much power.
The current Lumbee tribal government, however, while not managing much else, is managing to make a mockery of itself and its constitution through an inability of the executive and legislative branches to work together. It might be left to a reluctant judicial branch to force the players to take a seat at the same table and act as grownups.
Chairman Paul Brooks has decided that his attendance at Tribal Council meetings is not a priority, frustrating council members who say they need tribal administrators at the once-a-month meetings to answer questions. That frustration was evident before the Nov. 13 election, when key council members were quite visible in their efforts to unseat Brooks. But the voters spoke, electing Brooks to a new three-year term — and, implicitly at least, sending the message that it was time for everyone to get along.
In the days following the election, the Tribal Council upped the ante, and took a first step toward wresting control of the tribal government’s real reason for existence, dispensing millions of housing dollars each year to enhance the living conditions of tribal members. Brooks is looking to the judicial system to put the brakes on that effort, but the court’s chief justice, Gary Locklear, didn’t seen eager to oblige in a front-page story today by staff writer Bob Shiles.
Locklear, being careful to say he was speaking not as a judge but as a tribal member, did offer an ominous observation.
“Our government is pretty dysfunctional right now,” he said. “In Washington you see a two-party system trying to work things out. Here we have only one party, we are all Lumbees, yet with 21 council members and a chairman all having their own opinions it looks like we have a 22-member party system. In my opinion, there’s a lot of personalities involved — and that’s hurting the Lumbee people.”
This isn’t benign stuff. The tribe is now two months late on a budget, and the presumption is that such a delay can only delay getting housing dollars to members who need help. Of even greater concern is that federal recognition efforts have been abandoned because the ongoing local feud has made the effort in Washington a waste of time and resources.
Tribal officials are making themselves look as if they are only missing an oversized red nose, but the ones suffering the most are Lumbees, who are embarrassed by their elected officials and looking to them for leadership.
Leadership is what all 21 council members and Brooks promised when they were seeking election — but they seem determined not to make good.