An important step in that direction was taken on Monday when Tribal Chairman Sharon Hunt visited this office, hand-delivering a recent report from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was a response to the tribe’s defense to allegations of misspending $114,500 of HUD money earmarked for housing.
The report did contain some good news for the tribe, trimming the amount to be reimbursed by $26,000, but on the two larger issues that add up to about $86,000, the ruling wasn’t favorable, and appeals are planned. One is that the tribe owes just more than $24,000 for overpaying former Tribal Administrator Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend when she worked as a consultant, and that the tribe violated HUD policy by paying $62,000 to a consulting firm, Tiber Creek Associates. (Here’s a thought: Lowry-Townsend should repay the $24,000 to HUD should the appeal fail).
So this wasn’t a case of Hunt wanting to trumpet all good news. Rather, it was Hunt honoring a promise she made to this newspaper during a meeting that resulted from the July 24 Our View.
Our issue with the Tribal Council and its tilt toward governing in the dark isn’t recent, but has been a battle we have fought off and on since the government was hatched in 2001. Our angst spilled over when we learned that the Tribal Council had created an ordinance that allowed the media to probe, but called for a $100,000 penalty — without the benefit of an appeal — should the tribe determine any information it provided a reporter was used in a manner other than was promised. A good second step for the tribe would be for it to scrap that ordinance.
We knew when we penned the July 24 Our View that it would anger some members of the government, but our hope was that it would provoke dialogue, which has happened. We believe that Hunt is sincere in her desire to turn a page for the tribe, and that she understands this newspaper is a messenger, and not an adversary, and the potential beneficiary is tens of thousands of Lumbee Indians who come to these pages for news.
The tribe has talked the talk of transparency, but never got far on the walk. Monday’s was a single step, but it was a significant stride.