Council members say they didn’t know

Last updated: June 21. 2014 9:37AM - 7862 Views
By - bshiles@civitasmedia.com

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PEMBROKE — A former Lumbee tribal administrator says that Tribal Council members were told in 2006 that they could not be paid stipends out of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money designated for housing assistance.

“In 2006, while tribal administrator, I sent a letter to then Council Speaker Lawrence Locklear stating that council stipends are not an allowable expense by HUD,” Leon Jacobs said. “He knew about the stipends not being an allowable expense and so did other members of the council … . They were informed. There was a lot of discussion about it.”

An audit conducted by HUD showed that $416,562.67 in council stipends were paid from Oct. 1, 2010, to Aug. 30, 2013. HUD and the tribal administration have negotiated an agreement for the money to be paid back by reducing the amount of HUD funds the tribe receives by $208,281 for each of the next two funding cycles.

Stipends for council members, which had been $250 a month, were $550 a month when they were discontinued last August.

Locklear and other incumbent and past members of the Tribal Council disagree with Jacobs, who before becoming the Lumbee tribal administrator headed HUD’s Eastern Woodlands Office of Native American Programs in Chicago for 15 years.

“We never knew that council stipends were not allowable by HUD,” Locklear, who now chairs the Southeast American Indian Studies Program at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, told The Robesonian. “If there had been a letter from HUD informing us that these funds could not to be used for stipends, it never would have happened. We were adamant at the time that before we started accepting stipends, we wanted to make sure it was an allowable expense.”

Locklear said that council members were “under the assumption” that HUD funds could be used to pay for council members to attend full council meetings as well as meetings of the council’s Finance and Housing committees. The $250 stipend was “more or less” just to cover the cost of gas, he said.

Pearlean Revels, who was on the Tribal Council in 2006 and later served as a council speaker, said Jacobs initiated the stipends.

“It was Leon who was instrumental in getting the stipends,” Revels said. “It was his suggestion … . He was the (tribal) administrator. He is the one who had contacts with HUD.”

Revels, former Councilwoman Louise Mitchell and incumbent Councilman Terry Campbell question why HUD or tribal administrators never informed council members about the misuse of funds until it became an issue in the 2013 audit. HUD officials annually audit the tribe’s use of federal funds so it would be impossible, they said, for HUD and tribal administrators not to have known that stipends had been being paid out of HUD funds.

Both Campbell and Revels in conversations with The Robesonian said that the issue stems from their opposition to many of the actions taken by Chairman Paul Brooks. They said that Brooks and Jacobs are friends, and that Jacobs is serving as a consultant to the tribe at a cost of $3,200 a month.

“It’s just a vendetta against the three of us,” Campbell said. “This is just the intent of the chairman to take the focus of incompetence off of his staff and put it on the council.”

Jacobs said that he does not know why it took HUD so long to demand repayment of the misused funds, or why the council members were not informed about stipends being an ineligible use of the federal money. He also said that it is his concern that Brooks is being criticized and made to “carry the ball” for something for which he holds no responsibility. Council members took stipends for years before Brooks became chairman, he said.

“What I am recommending is that the chairman have his finance office contact each of the council members who have used stipends back to the beginning of the audit and make them repay the tribe for the funds they misused,” Jacobs said. “This is the responsibility of each individual council member.”

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