Stephens OK with board chair voting to hire wife as tax chief

LUMBERTON — A Robeson County commissioner said Wednesday during a radio interview he would understand if board Chairman Raymond Cummings tried to hire his wife as the next county tax administrator because it pays “a hundred grand.”

Jerry Stephens was referring to Betsy Cummings, an employee of the Tax Office who is married to the board chairman.

“Listen, I’ll give him the credit,” Stephens said of Chairman Cummings. “He’s always trying to get things, what he thinks is best, for his, his district, for instance, his people and himself. Listen, don’t fool yourself, we’re all like that brother. Listen. His wife is in there, if she can do the job, if your wife was in there and was going to make $100,000 would you be voting for them? … If she can do the job, would you tell her, you know, I’m a commissioner you ought not to have that job. One hundred grand, let me tell you.”

Betsy Cummings has worked at the Tax Office since May 21, 2002, when she was hired as a delinquent tax collector. In 2009 she became manager of the Personal Property Division, and currently has an annual salary of $61,657.83.

Stephens was interviewed for about 27 minutes on WAGR’s Midday Show by Victor Alford. Stephens spent much of the time criticizing The Robesonian newspaper and its editor, Donnie Douglas, mocking the newspaper’s coverage and calling Douglas “divisive” and using the words “Nazi” and “racist.”

He was upset about an editorial that appeared in The Robesonian on Wednesday about his failed effort to get the commissioners to donate $25,000 to the Raymond J. Pennington Athletic Complex, which is in his district, and recently was the site of the Dixie Youth World Series. His motion, which was to donate $5,000 a year over each of the next five years, got a second but was never voted on. He was critical of Cummings for not allowing the vote.

The editorial essentially said that Stephens broke from the traditional alignment on the board, that the request was “DOA,” and called Stephens a “sheep,” who probably got a “tongue-lashing” from the board’s leadership.

Stephens addressed the issue of control of the board during the interview as well.

“Now they don’t like the way he do things, but let me tell you all again, Raymond Cummings don’t run that board, he’s just very aggressive with what he think he sees,” he said.

Stephens also said he would welcome meeting with Douglas either privately or on the radio show to discuss issues. Douglas left a voice mail with Stephens asking for the meeting, but had not received a return call 10 hours later.

The newspaper also left a message with Raymond Cummings, and receive no call back.

The Board of Commissioners on Monday announced that Tax Administrator Cindy Lowry has not accepted an extension of her current contract, which expires on Aug. 31. Lowry would not speak with The Robesonian, but the newspaper has been told the extension was only through November, and Lowry wanted a two-year extension.

She has worked under contract since Sept. 1, 2008, and is currently making $111,954.77 a year.

Douglas said the criticism comes with the territory.

“We have been very critical of the leadership on the board, and the editorial was tough, so his reaction doesn’t surprise me,” Douglas said.

Douglas, however, pointed out two things Stephens alleged that were not true.

“We have never accused Stephens of taking kickbacks,” Douglas said. “Also, he said this newspaper had declared that Betsy Cummings would replace Lowry, and although I have heard that, we have not reported it. Stephens, however, in saying he would not blame Cummings for supporting his wife for that position, certainly signals it is in the works.”

Douglas said he also was curious what Stephens means when he suggested fellow commissioners would have supported the athletic complex funding request if the park was named “Campbell park,” or “Stephens park.”

“This certainly has a racial element to it,” Douglas said, “as he implied that if the park were named for a black county commissioner, himself or Berlester Campbell, and not a white former mayor of Lumberton, that the donation would have been approved.

“If Stephens would like to clarify that, we would welcome sharing it with our readers.”

The video can be seen on WAGR’s Facebook page. It is about 45 minutes long, with Stephens appearing about 18 minutes in. His comments about Cummings and his wife and the Tax Office are made at about the 39 minute mark.


Staff report