The ship that is the Lumberton Housing Authority has been steadied, but there is a wave approaching — and it could be a big one.
Since news broke last week that the longtime director of the authority, James Meacher, had retired shortly after receiving a scathing letter from Greensboro HUD’s field office expressing concerns about expenditures and possible conflicts of interest, several important steps have been taken.
This week the Lumberton Housing Authority’s board, acting basically at the directive of HUD, contracted with the Pembroke Housing Authority to help provide management services, which hopefully means that the ongoing investigation will not affect the services that the authority provides thousands of people, including many of this county’s most vulnerable. Lemark Harris, the longtime director of the Pembroke Housing Authority, will lead that effort, not because he is anxious to, but because he has been asked to help a sister authority.
The Lumberton Housing Authority’s board has also been reshuffled, with Eric Chavis being elevated to chairman, and Robert Delane Shaw, the chairman for four years, taking a seat elsewhere at the table.
Kimberly Jones, the authority’s lawyer, has been appointed as its spokesperson, and public information that last week was denied this newspaper as confusion reigned at the authority has been provided. We are satisfied that going forward there will be cooperation with this newspaper and that disclosure and transparency will be provided up to but not beyond the degree the law allows. Yesterday that included providing a 32-page report to this newspaper that details some of the concerns.
Most importantly — and of most concern — HUD’s Office of Inspector General, the investigative arm of the federal agency, has launched an audit that is expected to take as many as eight weeks to complete. According to HUD, “one of the most serious corrective actions that must be addressed is the repayment of $299,775” of contract work that appears to have been awarded to former employees of the Lumberton Housing Authority, which might violate conflict-of-interest regulations.
There are a lot more layers that must be peeled, and what they will reveal might be rotten. But it appears that players are in place and the steps are being taken to ensure an investigation that can be trusted and, if tax dollars have been misdirected in violation of federal laws, that those who did so will be dealt with appropriately.