PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Tribal Council hopes to recoup from the tribe’s former chairman and former tribal administrator some of the remaining $88,000 that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wants reimbursed because of misuse of federal funds.
Council members, however, aren’t sure how to do it.
At the council’s regular monthly meeting on Thursday, members voted to send back to committee a resolution that would have authorized the tribe to “research” and pursue repayment from Chairman Purnell Swett and Administrator Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend of an undetermined amount of the more than $88,000 of a total $98,093 in housing money that HUD is requiring the tribe to reimburse as a result of the funds not being spent in accordance with federal regulations.
The council is considering legal action against the former tribal officials, but according to attorney Ed Brooks, the cost of court action might be prohibitive.
“The problem is how much of the total amount do you attribute to each of the two owing,” Brooks said. “HUD does not delineate how the total cost (of what must be reimbursed) is broken down.”
HUD’s Eastern Woodlands Office of Native American Programs conducted an unannounced on-site financial audit of tribal programs last March and found that the tribe should return more than $114,500 in housing money for not being used in compliance with HUD regulations.
In June, the tribe reimbursed the agency $9,771 for lease over payments. The tribe and federal officials continued negotiations and in August an agreement was made to trim the tribe’s remaining debt to about $88,400.
At the time the audit became public early last year, Swett was still tribal chairman. He resigned his leadership position in May, citing health reasons.
The tribe submitted to HUD an official response to the agency’s March findings after Sharon Hunt, the tribe’s vice chair, replaced Swett. Hunt served as the tribe’s chairwoman until November, when Paul Brooks was elected to finish out the remaining one year of Swett’s term.
HUD conducted its March audit after it received complaints that tribe was not managing funds received under the federal Indian Housing Block Grant program appropriately.
HUD said that the review was limited to specific allegations, including: a tribal administrator (Lowry-Townsend) had been hired by the tribal chairman at a salary not approved by the Tribal Council; prior to the hiring of Lowry-Townsend as tribal administrator she was a consultant to 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; members of the Tribal Council were being reimbursed for unnecessary and unreasonable travel expenses; and office space for the Veterans Affairs Office at the Angel Exchange was rented at unreasonable cost.
During Thursday’s meeting, Tribal Council officers for the year were elected. They include: Pearlean Revels, speaker; Homer Fields, vice chairman; Louise Mitchell, secretary; Terry Campbell, treasurer; and Steve Sampson, parliamentarian.
In other business, the council on Thursday:
— Heard a brief update from Ron Oxendine, chairman of Lumbee Tribe Enterprises LLC, on activity of the tribe’s recently formed company.
Oxendine told the council that the company is “moving forward and growing.” It currently has five employees working on five defense contracts. The contracts generated a profit of about $29,000 for the tribe in the past four months, he said.
The company provides the tribe an opportunity to generate and create jobs by pursuing government and industrial contracts, including those contracts for providing services to such military bases as Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.
— Passed a resolution restricting videos being taken at Tribal Council committee meetings. Only former Speaker Steve Sampson, a strong advocate of keeping tribal government open to all tribal members, voted not to restrict videos being made of committee meetings.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.