“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
— Lord Acton
We will have plenty to say about an audit of the finances of the Lumbee tribal government when more is known, but that won’t stop us from commenting on what is already plain. Some — not all — of the members of the tribal government have more interest in enriching themselves — or their cronies — than using the housing money for what it was intended, bettering the plight of Lumbee Indians who are living in distressful conditions.
The audit that we reported on yesterday and today is incomplete, but our belief is that as the onion is peeled, the odor will get more foul. That is almost always the case. Right now, HUD says the tribal government owes this nation’s taxpayers about $114,000 — a figure we are convinced will rise.
The audit found that Rose Marie Lowry-Townsend, before she became administrator, was paid $110 an hour — as much as $1,000 a day — as a consultant, work that included creating a handbook for the tribe’s Boys and Girls Club, a task that should have been left to the club’s director. Lowry-Townsend’s contracting services cost $30,312. HUD wants that money back. Is there any mystery who should pay?
The audit also found that as many as 13 Tribal Council members recently spent several days in Las Vegas at a conference that had nothing to do with housing, so HUD money should not have been used. The cost was $14,950. HUD wants that money back. Should there be any discussion on who should pay?
HUD also wants returned $69,295 that the tribe paid to Tiber Creek Associates of Capital Hill Inc. for services. It’s unclear what services were provided; on Tuesday, some council members said they were unaware of Tiber Creek Associates or the services provided. Returning that money will be tricky.
HUD found that during the period from Jan. 1, 2010, to March 30 of this year, the tribe spent a minimum of $245,701 for consultants, contractual services and legal retainer fees, an amount the agency deemed “to be of concern.” Presumably, that is part of the onion that still must be peeled — and one of many reasons the amount HUD will demand be returned will grow.
There were other red flags raised, including what appears to be an excessive amount of rent being paid for the Veterans Affairs Office, and a full one-third of the tribal employees being supplied with cell phones. But not every allegation that was investigated was substantiated. So far, there doesn’t appear to be any hanky-panky with how housing contracts are being awarded — but stay tuned.
We don’t know if what the audit has revealed is the tip of the iceberg, or close to comprehensive, but we are confident the feds will not leave Pembroke until that question has been answered.
The Tribal Council, because of its own avarice, can forget federal recognition for this year and probably years to come as this stain will not be easily removed. How can Washington, D.C., in good conscience send hundreds of millions of dollars to a tribal government that has not shown itself to be trustworthy with a fraction of that funding?
There is also the concern that HUD might freeze current funding for housing until it the tribe repays the bill, or perhaps even choke off that flow indefinitely.
Some key resignations would be a good start in re-establishing the credibility of the tribe — and a return to the ideal that the government was established to serve tribal members, and not those who sit on the council or pick up their paychecks at The Turtle.