Sharon Hunt, the chairman of the Lumbee Tribal Council, last week said she wasn’t playing “hard ball” in her refusal to answer questions from the media concerning the tribe’s response to allegations of misspent housing money.
And we believe her.
Hunt is bound by an ordinance the tribe passed on March 18, 2010, that not only discourages such inquiries, but makes them unlikely. Hunt’s culpability is that she favored the ordinance, which was approved unanimously, although we doubt more than a handful of the members even took the time to read its eight pages.
The ordinance details the procedure for a tribal member — and the media — to request a review of tribal records. Of all the nonsense that it contains, the Rubbish Award goes to Sections 8 and 9, which apply to requests by non-members of the tribe and the press. The ordinance requires that a non-member or member of the press explain the reason for the request, and sign an agreement promising to pay the tribe a minimum of $100,000and legal fees if the tribe determines that the information is “used for a purpose other than described in the request.”
Oh yea, there is no right to an appeal.
While this newspaper has submitted some questions to the tribe, we balked at signing such an agreement. The water is too hot for a blind plunge.
The ordinance does achieve on at least two levels. Probably nothing the tribal government has done or plans to do better defines its paranoia, and its belief that the media are the enemy, and tribal members are undeserving of access to basic information. The ordinance is also effective, turning away all but the most determined pursuer of information. It certainly caused this newspaper to pause.
The tribe should be congratulated for its hubris, its willingness to accept over the years hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers not only in Robeson County, but from all four corners of this country, and every point in between. Then, when accused by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of spending some of that money illegally, the government has in place a policy that attempts to make its response to the HUD not the business of this newspaper or our readers, which include tens of thousands of members of the tribe — Lumbees who have an interest in knowing if money that was intended for their benefit was spent for someone else’s.
But the arrogance doesn’t expire there. Tribal officials have the audacity to continue to trumpet publicly that they embrace the need for transparency, that a more open and accountable government is necessary in order to win the most important ingredient the government lacks — credibility with its own members.
Yet tribal officials ask all of us to support their quest for federal recognition, and to have faith they can be trusted with the hundreds of millions of dollars winning that designation would deliver.
It’s true that the Lumbee government is not bound by the open-record laws that allow for reasonable access and dissemination without fear of consequence, but in rejecting these tenets instead of embracing them, the Tribal Council makes its government less like that of the United States, and more like Iran’s.