PEMBROKE — Military veterans came out in force Thursday night to tell Lumbee Tribal Council members that any cuts to the Veterans Services Office would hurt those who have served this country, but they were assured cuts aren’t planned.
About 60 veterans attended the council’s meeting, many expressing concerns about what they believed to be cuts in the Veterans Services budget in response to recent actions taken by Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks. They were apparently concerned following a dispute between Brooks and the director of the Veterans Affairs Office.
“Don’t cut the budget for vets,” veteran Lewis Locklear said. “If something is going to take away from the veterans, I won’t support it.”
“All these men standing here tonight are warriors,” Hubert Lowery said. “These men have earned respect … . Not one dollar should be cut (from Veterans Services Office budget). You should give them your full support.”
Pearlean Revels, speaker for the Tribal Council, attempted to assure the veterans that veterans programs will remain fully funded.
“This council is not cutting anything. We’re not taking anything away from our veterans,” she said.
On June 13, Harold Hunt, the Veterans Services Office director, filed a petition with the tribe’s Administrative Court charging Brooks with a number of violations, including misappropriation of department funds. In response, Brooks had the Veterans Services Office closed and the next day sent a letter to Hunt firing him from his position, Hunt told The Robesonian. The office has since been re-opened, Hunt said, but on Thursday night his status could not be explained.
“I filed the petition with the court because of my concerns about programming, ” Hunt said. “Things are not being done the way they should be.”
Hunt said that the letter sent to him from Brooks gave no reason for his dismissal. He said he plans to petition the Administrative Court soon for an injunction barring Brooks from getting involved in the operation of the Veterans Services Office.
Asked repeatedly by a reporter Thursday night to comment on his actions, Brooks declined.
“I’m not ready to make a statement at this time,” he said.
Several council members told the veterans that they were misinformed, that the council does not intend to cut money from veterans programs. Revels acknowledged, however, that there has been some mismanagement of the Veterans Services Office that the council needs to clear up.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” Revels said after the meeting. “We need to sort some things out.”
After a lengthy discussion, council members agreed to keep $42,000 in the Veterans Services Office budget that has been designated for the purchase of a van to be used for transportation of veterans and elderly tribal members to hospitals and doctor’s appointments.
The council also voted Thursday to file a petition this morning with the tribe’s Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order to ensure that the Veterans Services Office continues to operate as it has been until issues surrounding the office can be addressed. One issue needing to be clarified, according to the council, is who appoints the office’s director — the tribal chairman or the council.
A “finding of facts” hearing has been scheduled by the council for July 12. At that time, Hunt will be able to present his case to council members and Brooks will be permitted to offer a response.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.