LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners charged the county more than $5,600 for meals after board meetings between Jan. 3, 2012, and Jan. 17 of this year.
The Robesonian reviewed receipts for 18 restaurant visits at five Lumberton restaurants that totaled $5,619.14, an average of about $318 a visit. The most expensive visit totaled $431.32 at Outback Steakhouse, with the least expensive visit, totaling $90.52, at Denny’s.
Other restaurants patronized by the commissioners and administrator during that time period were Texas Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday and Megami Japanese Restaurant. Outback was the favorite, with commissioners going there eight times.
If a commissioner had an alcoholic drink with his meal, he picked up that tab, not the county.
It has been a standard practice for years for the commissioners, along with the county manager, assistant county manager, county attorney to go out for a dinner after the board holds its regular monthly meetings. The commissioners charge the county for their meals despite having the highest stipend, $700 per month, of any county commissioners in the state. The county has no policy in place regulating how the stipend is to be used. It is paid each month as lump sum, and commissioners are not required to turn in receipts.
Members of the Lumberton City Council and the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education enjoy catered meals before their meetings, but council and school board members do not receive a stipend. The meal for council members averages about $175, according to City Manager Wayne Horne. The average cost of the meals for the Board of Education was not available on Friday.
The Robesonian attempted to contact all the commissioners to ask them why the county pays for their meals when they are receiving a $700 stipend each month. Commissioners Lance Herndon, Hubert Sealey and David Edge responded, and Commissioners Noah Woods, Raymond Cummings, Jerry Stephens, Tom Taylor and Roger Oxendine did not return a reporter’s phone call.
“I really haven’t given this much thought. It’s something that was already in place long before I came on the board,” Sealey said. “But if this is something the board wants to look at and change, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”
Herndon also cited the long-standing tradition of county commissioners going out to a restaurant after their meetings.
“It’s always been a tradition and I just picked it up when I came on the board. This is a good opportunity for us to socialize,” he said. “Should the stipend be used to pay for meals? I would rather see the stipend be used to cover miles traveled and time spent doing county business.”
Edge said he doesn’t see it as a “problem” when the county picks up the tab for his meal after a meeting.
“It’s not that many times a year and it benefits the commissioners to have a chance to get together,” he said. “When I take my employees out to dinner, I always pick up the tab.”