First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - When Commissioner E.B. Turner resigned in January, District 1 lost a lot of political clout. Now it seems the district may lose the lion's share of the $42,000 nest egg that Turner had accumulated in that district's discretionary fund.
A plan being floated would give newly-appointed District 1 Commissioner Otis Pelham just $10,000 of Turner's old discretionary money and return the remaining $32,222 to the general fund. County Manager Ken Windley said the board is expected to consider that proposal Monday night.
In the weeks before his resignation, Turner doled out $20,000 that already will benefit people outside his district, giving $5,000 each to the funds controlled by Commissioners Hubert Sealey and Raymond Cummings, and $10,000 to the county Recreation Department. Turner gave an additional $17,000 to nonprofits.
Frances Cummings, Turner's No. 1 pick among seven he recommended take his place on the board, said she was not surprised by the proposal. The former state House Representative said the commissioners showed the same disregard for District 1 residents when they picked Pelham instead of listening to Turner, or Democratic leaders in the district who nominated Robert Shaw for the seat.
“I've said enough,” she said. “They are going to do what they want anyway.”
Pelham, who has been criticized privately for not fighting to keep the money, says there is little he can do. Pelham reasoned that the board is actually honoring Turner, who recommended that the money go to the general fund.
“I wish I did have the whole $42,000, but Dr. Turner had the right to do what he wanted,” Pelham said. “They were his funds.”
It is unclear what Turner wants done with money. After he resigned, Turner insisted that he be allowed to use the discretionary money for projects in District 1, but that request came too late because he was no longer commissioner. Turner could not be reached for this story.
Pelham said his focus is assessing his district's needs to decide how to use whatever money he gets. He added that he will not spend any money until after the May 2 primary.
“I will try to distribute it evenly among the district,” he said. “I am meeting with different individuals from different organizations and I'm having individuals call me.”
Commissioner Bill Herndon said that while each commissioner is given discretionary money, the money belongs to the county.
“It's not a sacred cow,” Herndon said. “It's something to be used, not to be left unused when there are needs all over the county.”
Chairman Johnny Hunt mentioned needs at the courthouse and in recreation. Robeson Community College, which has budget woes, has also been floated as a beneficiary.
“RCC has asked for more money, and we've tried to give them as much as we could,” Commissioner Noah Woods said.
Woods has said previously that the money should stay in District 1 and to spend it elsewhere would be unfair ot is residents.
Commissioner Tommy Wellington said that he wouldn't be opposed to giving money to RCC, but wanted to wait until he heard other proposals. Woods and Wellington are trustees on the college's board.