LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Housing Authority has been given more financial freedom by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Niakeya Jones, the authority’s executive director, confirmed that HUD is no longer requiring the local housing authority get federal approval before making purchases and entering into contracts. The regulation, in effect for about three years, was lifted earlier this month.
“We are now in a good place,” said Jones, who has been the authority’s executive director since Feb. 2. “Everything is going good. I am happy, and the staff is happy.”
Jones declined to comment further about the financial upgrades and improvements that led to HUD lifting its strict oversight of the authority’s purchasing process. She said Monday that she did not want to comment “at this time” because she was not involved with the Robeson County Housing Authority when HUD put the procurement regulation in place.
But County Attorney Patrick Pait credited Jones with playing a leading role in helping the authority address HUD’s concerns.
“I think Miss Jones and the staff at the housing authority have done a good job,” Pait said. “That is reflected in HUD removing the zero-tolerance regulation.”
The oversight regulations were put in place as a result of findings in a procurement assessment conducted by HUD in January 2014. The report detailed weaknesses and irregularities in the authority’s procurement activities and charged mismanagement of federal funds.
The report’s findings were the authority couldn’t provide sufficient documentation on several contracts; procurement policies were violated; and the authority failed to obtain independent cost estimates before obtaining bids on projects.
Officials at HUD told the authority to change its procurement policy and ensure cost estimates are performed for all procurement activities. The authority also was ordered to develop a plan for addressing the issues that concerned HUD.
During the investigation into the housing authority’s operations, allegations of mismanagement of federal funds and conflict-of-interest hiring were levied against Ron Oxendine, the authority’s executive director. Oxendine resigned in October 2014 and was replaced by Jason King, a Robeson County assistant county manager. King served as interim executive director until Jones was hired.
The investigation also revealed violations of conflict-of-interest laws by county Commissioners Raymond Cummings and Roger Oxendine, and Ron Oxendine, and George Locklear, the authority’s maintenance director. The violations included family members of the commissioners and authority administrators working for the authority.
Originally HUD wanted the county to pay back more than $1 million, but after negotiations between the federal agency and the county authority’s board of directors, which is made up of county commissioners, it was agreed in June 2015 that the county would repay $709,000. The money is to be paid back over 25 years.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.