LUMBERTON — A legal expert with the North Carolina School of Government says Robeson County violated a state statue when notices of delinquent taxes were published after the names of two immediate relatives of county commissioners were purposely deleted.
But Chris McLaughlin, an associate professor of Public Law and Government, is uncertain of the potential remedy, though he floated the possibility of a lawsuit, perhaps from a local citizens group.
The Robesonian has traditionally published the notices, but they were taken away from the newspaper in 2013, 2014 and 2015 after the newspaper began aggressive coverage of the county commissioners’ pay and benefits, which combined are the best in the state. The Robesonian published the notices in 2016 and 2017, but not this year, again following news coverage and editorial pieces critical of the commissioners, this time for their aborted attempt to buy Angel Exchange.
County Manager Ricky Harris said it was his decision to put the notices in the Robeson Journal, a weekly newspaper that claims a paid circulation of fewer than 200 and does not have an active website. After that happened, The Robesonian learned that the names of Rex Oxendine, brother of Commissioner Roger Oxendine, and Timothy Herndon, father of Commissioner Lance Herndon, had been omitted. Both are late on taxes dating back to 2013. Those taxes had still not been paid as of Wednesday.
Last week The Robesonian published a story that the taxes had not been paid on a piece of property co-owned by Raymond Cummings, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners. They have been paid since the story was published.
The county has not denied the omission of the names, and The Robesonian has been told by multiple sources that names have been omitted in the past. No one with the county has said publicly who asked the names to be removed, and who was complicit in that happening.
McLaughlin said the only names that should be omitted are those in bankruptcy or with a property under appeal.
“I have not heard any allegations of counties intentionally refusing to advertise certain taxpayers who are not involved with bankruptcies or appeals,” he said. “It’s not clear what the remedy would be if a county were intentionally failing to advertise certain taxpayers. Other taxpayers might be able to get a court order requiring the county to make such advertisements.”
A government must advertise the taxes as being delinquent as a necessary step toward foreclosure.
McLaughlin said taxpayers might also complain to the state Department of Revenue, which is charged with enforcing the Machinery Act — the property tax laws — in all 100 counties. Tony Simpson, who is with the department, said the statute requires the publishing of the notices, but is “silent” on potential repercussions for not doing so.
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or [email protected]