PEMBROKE — Lumbee Tribal Council members are preparing to vote Thursday on a resolution reprimanding tribal administrators, including Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr., for using budgeted money for purposes not approved by the council.
Godwin, Tribal Administrator Freda Porter, and Finance Director Sharon Bell are accused of using housing money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for cleaning up the Lumbee Cultural Center after Hurricane Matthew ravaged the county in Oct. 8 and with flooding that followed. The cleanup cost about $84,000, an expense administrators planned to seek reimbursement for from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Simply put it’s a misuse of funds,” said Bill James Brewington, former council speaker and current Finance Committee member. “Funds appropriated for housing are not to be used for other purposes.”
According to the tribe’s constitution, the council is responsible for approving, enacting and amending the annual budget. The constitution also grants to the council fiduciary responsibility to ensure compliance with all program funding and allocations.
The chairman, administrator and finance director should not get off the hook for violating the tribe’s constitution and regulations governing the use of federal housing money even though FEMA recently reimbursed the tribe the $84,000 expense, Councilwoman Anita Hammonds Blanks said Tuesday.
“They had other options,” Hammonds Blanks said. “They could have come to the council and asked for unrestricted funds to be used to pay for the cleanup. This was a situation where the funds were going to be paid back.”
Hammonds Blanks said she was disappointed by the action taken by the chairman and his administration.
“For the most part there has been a lot of transparency (between the administration and council), more than we have experienced in the past,” she said. “But there was a breach this time. Hopefully this will not happen again.”
Brewington said passage of the resolution is really just a “slap on the wrist.”
“This is just a verbal reprimand,” he said. “It could have been a legal reprimand.”
As written, the resolution serves as “documentation of that non-compliant act. Should such actions persist, legal measures will be taken.”
Godwin did not return calls seeking comment. Porter said only that the issue would be addressed after council considers the resolution Thursday during their regular monthly meeting.
Brewington and Hammonds Blanks said they are uncertain if there are enough votes on the 21-member council to pass the resolution.
“I hope it passes,” Brewington said. “I’m voting for it.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165