The prevailing belief in Robeson County that nepotism and cronyism supersede qualifications when it comes to landing jobs with the local government became more entrenched with the revelations at the Robeson County Housing Authority.
On the surface, they are more a molehill than a mountain, but we worry about what remains in the dark.
Commissioner Roger Oxendine says he didn’t realize that his wife’s sister’s husband would be considered “immediate family,” which is plausible. Had he, Oxendine told us, he would have recused himself from the decision to award Darrel Mitchell a landscaping contract. Oxendine says that the bid by Mitchell’s Lawn Care was the lowest, so presumably the taxpayers weren’t punished.
Commissioner Raymond Cummings once again didn’t answer our calls, but a defense would have been hard to manufacture. Cummings’ son Robert is by any definition immediate family, and he was hired by the authority by a vote of a board that is chaired by his father.
The other instances of conflict of interest identified so far include the employment of a niece of the authority’s now-suspended director, Ron Oxendine, and the daughter of the authority’s maintenance director.
According to county officials, the pay adds up to about $50,000 that will likely have to be repaid to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The good news is all this bubbled to the surface as a result of an investigation by newly hired County Attorney Patrick Pait, who wasn’t deterred by the fact that he works at the pleasure of the Board of Commissioners, which is steered by Cummings and Oxendine. Pait got busy in an effort to respond to findings by HUD that procurement policies were being violated, and should be commended for exposing nepotism that has lingered at the housing authority since at least 2010 — a four-year span during which no one in a position to fix it locally either saw what was in plain sight or was bothered into action.
Now that this rock has been kicked over, it’s time to dig deeper.
The county Board of Commissioners, if it wants to reclaim credibility, should establish an independent commission that could field complaints about nepotism and cronyism and people being hired for key jobs who lack the necessary credentials. We have a stack of letters we could provide the commission.
Secondly, Cummings, who always seems attached to allegations of commissioners using their position to enrich themselves, their families or their friends, should resign as the chairman of the board at the Department of Social Services, where about 400 people are employed. We are confident that an investigation there would turn that molehill into a mountain.
A third step would be just to unleash Pait. It appears to us that he is a slave to the facts, and not to the way things have always been done.
The county is now presented with the opportunity to regain the public trust by cleaning up a mess that has been years in the making. An unwillingness to begin this journey would only affirm what most Robesonians believe when it comes to this Board of Commissioners — that it is motivated by greed and self-interest and not the public good.