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Lumbee Tribal Constitution Heads For Vote

PEMBROKE, NC – Oct. 30, 2001 -- The Tribal Council of the Lumbee Nation made several changes Saturday to a document it hopes will become the tribe's constitution after a Nov. 6 referendum.

The tribal council and the council’s constitution committee met for approximately four hours this past Saturday at the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association Building to iron out changes in the constitution before the Nov. 6 vote.

One change made grants veto power to the tribal council chairman, however, a veto can be overturned if two-thirds of the board votes to do so. Also, the chairman was given authority to recommend the hiring and firing of a tribal administrator.

Council members agreed to reduce the number of voters needed to initiate a recall of any elected tribal official from 20 to 10 percent of eligible voters in the official's district. In order for a seat to be declared vacant, at least 30 percent of voters in the recall election must vote for the official's removal.

Tribal Chairman Milton Hunt said he was generally pleased with the constitution, but says he understands that not everyone will be satisfied with the document.

Several issues that some council members felt should be on a separate ballot remained unchanged. The board determined the tribe's territory shall include the entire state of North Carolina, decided that people convicted of felonies would be disqualified from holding tribal office, and concluded that council members could hold more than one public office simultaneously.

Linda Hammonds, constitution committee chairman, had pushed for separate ballots on the above issues. Hammonds said she fears people will not vote for the constitution as it stands if those items are on just one ballot.

The meeting reportedly was marked by sporadic infighting among board members.

Hammonds said that during several public hearings, people overwhelmingly said tribal officials should not hold other public offices.

Councilman Jimmy Hunt said that wasn't true. He said people knew who was running for tribal chairman and council seats, and they knew Milton Hunt was mayor of Pembroke when they voted.

Many of the nearly 30 people who attended the meeting said the tribe's territory should be Robeson and surrounding counties. However, some council members worried that representation of people who live outside the state would be hampered by restricting the territory.

Given the number of public concerns that were aired during a public hearing last week, some council members felt the referendum should be delayed.

Darlene Jacobs said she thought the council should have held a mass mailing to members of the tribe, "letting them know what this constitution is and getting their input," she said.

"We want a document that is for the people and will stand the test of time," Jacobs said.

Councilman Henry Chavis predicted that if the election isn't held Nov. 6, the council would be sued by the Lumber River Development Association.

"The constitution committee has put together pretty much what you wanted," Chavis said to the members of the public at Saturday's meeting.

Afterward, several people blasted the council, saying there were too many personal agendas and personalities at work on the board.

If the constitution is not approved Nov. 6, the council will start on a new draft, with no deadline for completing it. When the council was elected last year, voters gave it one year to draw up a constitution and conduct a referendum on the document.

If it is approved, the constitution will take effect immediately.

(From The Robesonian and other reports.)

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