LUMBERTON — The names of close relatives of two county commissioners who are well past due on paying their taxes were not included in a list of delinquent tax notices recently published in a weekly newspaper as a requirement of the law.
The Robesonian also has been told by a former Tax Office employee that the practice of protecting certain individuals by deleting their names from the tax notices goes back at least two decades. He spoke with us on the condition his name not be used. His information was confirmed by county officials whose names the newspaper also agreed not to publish.
The delinquent notices were published on May 23 in the Robeson Journal, a weekly newspaper that claims a paid circulation of 100 to 200, a total distribution of 2,500 and does not have an active website. The Robesonian has historically published the notices, but the county took them away in 2013, 2014 and 2015 before returning them for the past two years. The Robesonian has a circulation of more than 10,000 and a website that is visited by thousands of people each day.
Omitted were the names of Rex Oxendine, the brother of Commissioner Roger Oxendine, the District 3 representative since 2006; and Timothy Herndon, the father of Lance Herndon, the District 8 representative since 2009. The Robesonian is aware of a handful of other delinquent taxpayers who were not listed, but was unable to determine a link to any public official, and was also told those properties might be in foreclosure or that there might be another reason for their omission.
“We don’t advertise if the property is under appeal, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or insolvent,” Tax Administrator Cindy Lowry said in a statement.
The Robesonian began looking hard after being told by the former employer that the practice has been going on for years. Rex Oxendine and Tim Herndon also were delinquent last year and their names were not published in The Robesonian, which handled the tax notices during 2017.
The newspaper did not look further back than that.
“We have no idea if this is the iceberg or the tip,” said Donnie Douglas, editor of The Robesonian. “We are talking about thousands of people and more than 12,000 parcels. We could put a team on this to work all day, every day for a month, and there is no way of knowing if they would uncover a lot more or nothing, but our resources are limited.
“We hope that this revelation will quickly end the practice. It’s wrong.”
Oxendine, who lives on N.C. 130 East near Rowland, owes $7,695.78 from 2016 and $4,948.51 from 2017 on multiple properties, but also has delinquent taxes dating to 2013.
“Currently, Rex Oxendine has an appeal in process,” Lowry said.
Herndon, who lives on Tobermory Road in Parkton, owes $7,488.82 from 2016 and $6,973.05 from 2017 on multiple properties, but also owes money dating back to 2013.
State law requires the notices be published in a newspaper of general circulation. Law also forbids the initiation of the foreclosure process without the publication of the notices of delinquency.
“I do realize that our office is not perfect, but we do strive every day to work within the guidelines of the N.C. General Statutes,” Lowry said.
Work has begun with Kellie Blue, assistant county manager, “to assist me in coming up with an internal solution,” Lowery said.
”During my tenure I have strived to make sure that this office is one that the public can trust and work through processes with dignity and transparency,” she said.
County Manager Ricky Harris could not be reached for comment. The Robesonian sent an email to Harris, which was answered, saying it would not call either Commissioner Oxendine or Commissioner Herndon, but if either wanted to they could send a comment to the newspaper. Neither did.
The Robesonian was attempting to determine if any crimes had been committed, and reached out to officials with the UNC School of Government but without success. District Attorney Johnson Britt said he would research the matter, but had not done so before the deadline for this report.