RED SPRINGS — Lumbee Tribal Council members and tribal members learned Thursday night that the tribe has more than $18 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds that no one seemed to know existed.
Pearlean Revels, the council’s speaker, and Councilman McDuffie Cummings announced that the $18,495,998.61 has been growing yearly since 2007, although no one in the administration or on the council knew it.
Cummings said that council members were informed of the windfall during Thursday night’s closed session, just prior to the public announcement that the money is available. He said that the $18 million will be added to the tribes’s fiscal 2013 HUD allocation of almost $13 million to bring the total amount of money available to build and repair homes to more than $31 million.
Cummings and other council members said they have been told by top tribal administrators, including Chairman Paul Brooks, that there has been no money available to handle all of the housing needs being requested by tribal members. Currently, there are more than 1,000 members of the tribe waiting to receive a new home or have their present dwelling rehabilitated. Some have been on a waiting list for several years.
Cummings said that those now serving on the council want to apologize to the tribal members who need housing services.
“We have been telling people that we don’t have the funds to fix their homes, ” he said. “… But we assure you this money will be spent. The money is there. This council was not aware of it.”
Revels also pledged the council’s support in seeing that the tribe’s housing needs are met.
“You’ve got a new government. These people (council members) believe in government and will make sure they get things done,” Revels said. “
According to Cummings, when the council received an audit of fiscal year 2011 earlier this year, the numbers didn’t add up.
“We looked at the audit and saw there was some under spending,” he said.
Cummings said that the council began investigating and received an email from HUD officials Thursday confirming that the tribe had not been spending its total allotment of federal housing money for several years.
Councilwoman Danita Locklear said after the meeting that the housing funds are held in a “locks draw down system,” meaning that the funds cannot be withdrawn until they have been spent. She said that she does not know how any administrator involved in administering these funds could not be aware of the amount of money in the account.
Cummings said that it appears past tribal administrations have proposed budgets that included amounts less than the total amount allotted by HUD.
“I don’t know how to account for it (administration’s lack of knowledge) other than incompetence,” he said.
Brooks, the chairman, was not at Thursday’s meeting. In a statement this morning, Brooks called comments made by council members Thursday as a personal attack on him.
“While this can be easily explained, this is tantamount to the character assassination we see time and time again committed by certain members of the Tribal Council,” Brooks said. “This character assassination transcends the person holding the position of tribal chairman. It was Jimmy Goins and the Lewin contract; Purnell Swett and Dr. Townsend; Sharon Hunt and her dual role.
“Now they attack me. It is peculiar that the Tribal Council has had this budget since the first week of July, but held this issue until election time.”
Brooks is seeking re-election on Nov. 13 in a three-person race.
Several council members expressed their displeasure that the housing money has been available so long without their knowledge. They said they have been telling tribal members seeking housing assistance that there was no money available.
Cummings said that all of the $31 million will be allocated this year so as “not to overwhelm the staff.”
“This money will be drawn down for housing rehabilitation and to build build some new houses,” he said. “We are going to get out of the mobile home business.”
Cummings and other council members also pledged that preference in housing services is going to be given to senior and disabled tribal members already on the waiting list for services.
The council scheduled a budget work session for Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year. A resolution was passed ordering the administration to continue operating under the guidelines set this current year until the 2013 budget can be adopted.
No one from the tribal administration was present at Thursday’s meeting to address the issue of housing money. Brooks said in his statement that he no longer plans to send his staff to council meetings.
“They have made it clear that they have nothing but contempt for this administration as indicated by council member’s comments. I will not send my staff to council meetings to continue to be berated by people you cannot reason with due to political agendas,” he said.
In other business at the meeting, which was held at the Hawkeye Boys and Girls Club in Hoke County:
— Several Hoke County residents complained that American Indian students and employees of the Hoke County schools are being bullied and mistreated. Reportedly students are becoming afraid to go to school and American Indian teachers are leaving the school system in search of work elsewhere.
In response to a request from Hoke residents for “support,” the council will discuss the allegations at its Education Committee meeting scheduled to be held later this month.
— The council agreed to hire the Falmouth Institute of Government, a consulting firm for American Indian tribes, to conduct a 2012-13 wage study of all tribal employees. The council is hoping that it can cut current salaries by about $33,000.
— John Lyon, of AT&T, presented the tribe with $2,000 to be used in its program for providing students with supplies they need for school.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.