PEMBROKE — A petition arguing that the Lumbee Tribe’s Board of Elections should be ordered to release voter information, including enrollment numbers, to a group wanting to recall Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr., has been dismissed by the tribe’s administrative court.
In a unanimous decision released Friday, the court refused to accept the petitioner’s argument that the board must release voter names, addresses and enrollment numbers to the public. Requesting the information was Purcell Jones Jr., listed in court records as the petitioner representing the Committee for the Recall of Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr.
The court also dismissed the petitioner’s request to c nsure and publicly reprimand Tribal Administrator Freda Porter and Harvey Godwin Jr., remove Shiela Beck from her position as chairman of the tribe’s Elections Board, and provide any other remedy deemed appropriate by the court.
Beck,had seen the decision because someone sent her a copy that had been posted on Facebook, she said.
“It looks like they (judges) are following the (tribe’s) constitution,” Beck said. “The constitution is cut and dry when it comes to this process.”
Godwin welcomes an independent judicial review of his and his administration’s actions, the tribal chairman said in a statement released Monday.
“Our tribal administrative court has an important constitutional duty to ensure the due process rights of our members enshrined in the Lumbee Constitution. The independent judicial review of tribal governance matters demonstrates the Lumbee Tribal government’s commitment to an accountable, transparent, and constitutional government,” he said. “The court’s opinion dismissed very specific charges against both my administration and the tribal elections board. I welcome the court’s decision and reaffirm this administration’s commitment to uphold our tribal laws and constitution. The Lumbee tribal government exists to serve its members, and they are entitled to scrutinize the decisions made on their behalf.”
Only those who voted in the November 2015 election, when Godwin defeated former Chairman Paul Brooks and three other candidates, can cast a ballot in a recall election. According to the tribe’s constitution, 10 percent of the total number who voted in the election must sign a petition in order for the recall process to continue. There were about 5,500 votes cast, meaning 550 signatures are needed to start the process.
Petitions have been circulated by a group called “Seeing is Believing.” The group includes Bosco Locklear, the tribe’s former housing director who was fired by Godwin, and former Chairman Brooks.
The petitions allege Godwin uses tribal security officers for personal security during funeral services, uses federal funds to pay Housing Department employees to travel on matters not related to housing, uses housing funds to pay dancers to perform at events outside tribal territory in violation of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit, and uses Housing Department staff to provide housing services at Campbell Soup, where his private business, Two Hawk Employment Service, has a contract to provide temporary employees. Others charge that Godwin’s administration has misappropriated funds and “people are not getting the tribal services they deserve.”
In its decision, the court rejected the assertion that “precedent” had been set during the recall effort of former Chairman Brooks when the former chairman of the Lumbee Tribe Board of Elections provided a copy of poll books to requesting parties. The court also rejected the petitioner’s contention that a North Carolina voter identification number, which is only used for access to voting processes, is comparable to a tribal enrollment number, which allows enrolled tribe members to qualify for tribal benefits.
“It is the opinion of the court that a tribal enrollment number is analogous with a Social Security or driver’s license number, both of which are clearly considered by the state of North Carolina as confidential,” the court decision reads. “… Nothing stops in any way the ability of petitioner or anyone associated with the purported Committee for the Recall of Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. from obtaining signatures, names, addresses, and enrollment numbers of voters interested in the recall effort.”
Attempts by The Robesonian on Monday to contact Jones were unsuccessful.
Eric Locklear, a self-proclaimed community activist and consultant who testified on behalf of the petitioner, said the court’s ruling has bolstered the opinion among many tribal members that a new interpretation of the tribe’s constitution is needed.
“While I am disappointed in the court’s decision, we have reached a point where Lumbees must use our constitutional rights authority to govern ourselves because our justices, elected officials and tribal administration are not serving or acting in the interest of our people,” Locklear said.
The effort to obtain signatures to recall Godwin will continue, said Locklear, who said he is not a member of the recall committee.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.