PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Tribe has been ordered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay the federal government back more than $114, 500 in housing money that the agency says was not used in accordance with HUD regulations.
The order was issued as a result of an unannounced on-site review of tribal finances conducted March 29 and March 30 by the Eastern Woodlands Office of Native American Programs. According to the report, signed by Kevin Fitzgibbons, administrator of the Woodlands Office, the audit was made after a series of complaints and concerns were raised from about financial management.
“The objective of the review was to determine if the allegations contained in various complaints regarding the housing operations of the tribe could be substantiated,” the report says.
Both Tribal Chairman Purnell Swett and Tribal Council Speaker Steve Sampson declined Monday afternoon to comment on the report, pending the report being officially introduced to tribal officials during a meeting Monday night. The Robesonian was told the meeting would be closed, so a reporter did not attend.
Addressed in the 34-page report were eight allegations, including: a tribal administrator had been hired by the tribal chairman at a salary not approved by the Tribal Council; prior to the hiring of Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend as administrator she was a consultant for the tribe at $1,000 a day; an excessive amount of Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act money was being spent for consulting services; and members of the Tribal Council were being reimbursed for unnecessary and unreasonable travel expenditures. Other allegations included that one Tribal Council member, Terry Campbell, was allowed to bid on and receive an inordinate number of housing rehabilitation contracts without competition; one contractor, Metcon Inc., of Pembroke, was awarded new construction contracts without competition and without the ability to be bonded for federally assisted work; and the lease agreement for the tribe’s Veterans Affairs Office with the Angel Exchange contains an excessive per-square-foot cost.
In addition to finding that the terms of the administrator’s contract agreement, which ended on May 6, did not comply with policies and regulations governing use of housing funds, the audit revealed that between Jan. 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011, Townsend had been paid $30,312 at the rate of $ 110 per hour, for services provided as a consultant to the Lumbee Tribe Boys and Girls Club. According to the report, the responsibility of Townsend was to develop an organizational handbook for the club.
According to the report, the costs associated with Townsend’s consulting services are not an allowable use for housing money because the tribe did not seek anyone but Townsend to fill the position. Also, the tribe did not execute a contract with the consultant.
In addition, the report reads, “The level of compensation for Dr. Lowry-Townsend was unreasonably excessive …”
HUD said that all $30,312 for Townsend’s consulting services must be returned.
In its review of housing funds being spent on consulting contracts, HUD found that during the period from Jan.1, 2010, to March 30, 2011, the tribe has spent a minimum of $245,701 for consultants, contractual services and legal retainer fees.
The report identified this amount “to be of concern” and stated contractual services agreements will be reviewed in more depth during the next scheduled on-site review.
During its review, HUD found that Swett and tribal staff could not specify the housing-related matters addressed by Tiber Creek Associates of Capital Hill Inc. As a result, the tribe must reimburse HUD $69,295 for these services.
The report says that HUD staff was assured by Swett and tribal staff that no housing money was used by the tribe for the tribe’s pursuit of federal recognition.
Concerning travel reimbursements, the tribe must reimburse HUD at least $14,950 for the cost of 13 Tribal Council members who traveled to Las Vegas from March 14 to March 17 for a conference. The report said that the conference did not concern housing, but was an economic development conference, not an an allowable use of the money.
The report also said that the tribe must recalculate the proper per diem for all travel funded by money allocated through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act during the period of Oct. 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011. The total per-day payments in excess of the allowable rates must be paid back to HUD.
The audit did not find problems with housing rehabilitation contracts to companies owned by Tribal Council members, Terry Campbell and Robert Chavis. It said that Tribal Council members owning businesses and participating in the tribe’s home rehabilitation efforts made disclosure of their interests when bidding on projects.
In response to a complaint that Metcon Inc. has been awarded new construction contracts without competition because of its personal ties to members of the tribe’s administration, the Woodlands office staff reviewed the procurement record for the District 12 elderly complex/community center construction project.
“The complaint that Metcon Inc. won a noncompetitive contract was not substantiated …,” the report reads.
According to the report, the Woodlands office is asking the tribe to supply records justifying its lease with the Angel Exchange for housing the tribe’s Veterans Affairs Office. The agency wants information demonstrating that the lease met open-competition requirements. The agency also wants justification for the lease cost, the report said.
The three-year lease for the 2,350-square-foot facility was entered into on Aug. 1, 2010. The monthly rental rate is $5,500, which is based on an annual square-foot charge of $28.09.
According to the report, between Jan. 1, 2010, and March 31 of this year, $21,937 in HUD money was used to pay the lease. The report said the lease “far exceeds fair market value for comparable leased space.”
The report said that the Woods office questioned the allow-ability of costs charged to HUD for payments associated with the lease, but will suspend the dis-allowance of cost to provide the tribe an opportunity to submit supporting documentation.
No ruling was made on a complaint that the tribe is misusing federal funds by providing cell phones to employees who are not required to have them.
The report found that 37 tribal employees — 35 percent of the workforce — have federally-funded cell phones. The reason given by the tribe’s finance director for so many cell phones is that many employees travel or work on weekends.
According to the report, “it appears that some of the staff”s cell phone usage is not necessary.”
The report said cell-phone usage would be monitored going forward.
According to the Fayetteville Observer, on Monday night members of the audience were asked to leave the chamber because some of the issues to be discussed were personnel-related and dealt with employee contracts. After nearly two hours, people who remained in the lobby were locked out of the area of the building leading to the chamber.
— Staff writer Bob Shiles can be reached at (910) 272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.