No one ever campaigned for office on the promise to personally profit off the public treasury. But plenty have in Robeson County — and some continue to do so, confident they will not be held accountable on election day.
The story of how our county commissioners have built financial monuments to themselves has been well-documented in this newspaper since August 2012 when our eyes were first opened. As promised then, we will not fall silent on the matter until the commissioners in the poorest county in North Carolina are no longer the best paid and benefited, a perch they cling to despite cutting their health benefits and running fast from their scam to continue to draw a check after leaving office once it became public knowledge.
But that greed is not limited to our county commissioners.
In August we learned that members of the Lumbee Tribal Council were using housing funds to pay themselves stipends. As with the commissioners, it’s difficult to know when the Tribal Council began using housing money to pay members a stipend, or when it more than doubled from $250 to $550 a month — much more than the $50 a meeting that HUD recommends.
The commissioners did their work behind closed doors and then stuffed it in the middle of a budget; the tribal government has never functioned in the sunlight. The veil, of course, is essential to keeping the thievery going.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the tribal government owes it $416,562.67 for illegally using housing money to pay the stipends. When other illegal expenditures are added in, including more than $36,000 for failing to solicit bids for attorney services, HUD is demanding a repayment of $454,972.73.
That can’t be raised at a BBQ.
The tribal government has not shown itself proficient at much, certainly not at raising money privately. Justice would be that council members who benefited from this repay it — with interest.
Instead, HUD will withhold housing money until the debt is settled. That means some tribal members will be denied money for basic and essential housing needs.
Likewise with our county government, the millions of taxpayer dollars that the commissioners have pulled from the General Fund to honor themselves could have been used to enhance education in a county whose schools lag, prop up law enforcement and prosecutors in a county that is the most violent in the state, and to promote economic development in a county with one of the highest jobless rates in the state. These maladies are the consequence of failed leadership, not of leaders who should be well-compensated.
Why is this county inflicted with such sorry leadership? It appears that people who are motivated not by public service but by the chance to profit, are more inclined to seek office locally — and it’s plain that they are successful in deceiving an uninformed electorate, benefiting from cronyism, nepotism, favoritism and the hauling of voters.
It is said that the people get the government that they deserve. We are Exhibit A.