LUMBERTON — A longtime member of the Lumberton City Council is running the Lumberton Housing Authority, which recently received a scathing letter from federal officials alleging problems with spending.
“I’m learning as I go,” said Robert Delane Shaw, the chairman of the authority’s board of directors the past four years. “We’re still trying to maintain and provide services in the most expedient and efficient way we can.”
Shaw took over when James Meacher, who served as the Lumberton Housing Authority’s executive director for 33 years, retired on Feb. 25. The former executive director announced his retirement at a meeting of the authority’s board of directors.
Meacher retired just a little more than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development told the local agency not to spend or obligate any federal money without first getting HUD approval because of a concern “about the possible improper expenditures of funds.”
“I think that might have encouraged him to retire at this time,” Shaw said when asked if HUD’s action was a factor in Meacher’s departure. “He may have felt it was the best thing to do before being asked to.”
Shaw, who along with other housing authority personnel was called to task in Wednesday’s Our View in The Robesonian for not supplying the paper with public information, walked into the newspaper office Wednesday morning and discussed with a reporter issues currently facing the authority. He said that his phone had been out of order and he had not received several messages from The Robesonian requesting information.
Shaw said that Meacher’s departure has resulted in “frustration and uncertainty” among staff who are used to working with the longtime director. He said that until a new executive director can be hired that he — as chairman of the authority board — is fulfilling administrative duties usually performed by the executive director.
Shaw said that the board is in the “process of studying” what needs to be done to get a new executive director hired.
“If I had my way, I’d like to have a director hired right away, within 30 days,” he said.
Meacher was making a salary of $103,192 a year.
Shaw said that the Lumberton Housing Authority oversees 729 conventional housing units. He also said that the authority has within its jurisdiction 596 homes that are classified as Section 8.
The current priority of the board, according to Shaw, is to respond to HUD’s concerns. The federal agency has given the authority 30 days to respond.
“This correspondence concerns the Lumberton Housing Authority’s violation of conflict-of-interest requirements, lack of adequate controls over its disbursements, and failure to maintain an adequate control system as outlined in the report of the Office of Public Housing,” Michael A. Williams, director of Public Housing for HUD’s Greensboro field office, wrote in a Feb. 6 letter to Meacher. “Due to LHA’s failure to administer some of its HUD funds in accordance with the the requirements, this office is concerned about the possible improper expenditures of funds.”
HUD has ordered that the local authority submit copies of all bills, invoices and receipts to its office before expending or obligating any funds by check, cash or promissory note. HUD is also requiring that the local authority submit for review related information before awarding and executing any contracts or making and hiring and firing decisions.
Shaw said that HUD’s concerns result from an on-site inspection in March 2012. He said that the authority’s board members were just recently made aware of the report, although HUD officials contend it was given to Meacher previously.
“There is some confusion over whether or not the executive director did receive this report,” Shaw said. “Nothing was mentioned to the board … . We were wondering where the plan was. In our opinion, it was overdue.”
Shaw said that the local board will probably have to request a 30-day extension to complete its review and respond to all of HUD’s concerns.
Shaw served four terms on the Lumberton City Council as the District 5 councilman before being defeated by John Cantey in the 2005 municipal elections.