LUMBERTON — A county commissioner who has been cited for “conflict of interest” in an investigation of the Robeson County Housing Authority said Friday that he had no idea that his wife’s sister’s husband was considered “immediate family” and should not be permitted to perform contract work for the county.
“I didn’t think anything about it. I don’t think he is immediate family,” said Roger Oxendine. “He bid on the project and was the low bidder. I never thought anything about it.”
Darrel Mitchell, of Mitchell’s Lawn Care, was employed by the housing authority for lawn care service from May 5, 2010, until July 31, 2014.
“I voted to award him the contract,” Oxendine said. “If I’d known he was considered immediate family, I would have recused myself from voting.”
Three other conflict-of-interest cases have so far been unearthed in the ongoing investigation into allegations that the Robeson County Housing Authority failed to follow proper federal procurement policies. The other cases include:
— County Commissioner Raymond Cummings’ son, Robert Cummings, who was employed by the authority from June 17, 2010, to April 14, 2011.
— Authority Director Ronald Oxendine’s niece, Shannon Oxendine, who was employed by the authority from June 18, 2010, until Aug. 13, 2010.
— Misty Hammonds, the daughter of the authority’s maintenance director, George Locklear, and owner of Hammonds Auto Service, was employed to service vehicles for the authority from Sept. 6, 2010, until April 4, 2014.
Local and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development investigations have not yielded results that warrant criminal charges, according to County Attorney Patrick Pait.
“If there was money missing, which there appears not to be, that would be a different story,” he said. “But with what we have discovered so far as procurement problems and conflict of interest, I don’t expect there will be anything regarded as criminal.”
Problems surfaced when HUD initiated a review of the housing authority’s files in January after it received a hotline complaint. An on-site visit was conducted in June.
Ron Oxendine, the housing authority’s director, was suspended with pay by the Board of Commissioners on July 21.
Allegations against Ron Oxendine include that he used federal money to pay for work on his home; had two contractors work on his home while they were under contract to the housing authority; and tried to get free landscape work done at his home by a company that was under contract to the housing authority.
HUD found that the housing authority could not provide sufficient documentation on several contracts, it violated procurement policy, and it failed to obtain independent cost estimates before going out and getting bids for projects. The housing authority was also told by HUD to change its procurement policy and make sure that cost estimates are performed for all procurements.
HUD, at the housing authority’s request, has granted the authority an extension until Oct. 6 to respond to the findings.
Joseph Phillips, a HUD spokesman in Atlanta, said Friday that HUD will not make any statements about the procurement investigation now under way until after it receives from the county housing authority its plans for correcting the violations.
According to Jason King, assistant county manager who is serving as the housing authority’s interim director, authority officials are “optimistic” that once the investigation is complete enough documentation will have been provided to HUD to “significantly reduce” the $1.2 million HUD is requesting to be repaid.
Both King and Pait have told The Robesonian that the four identified cases of conflict of interest have cost the housing authority about $50,000.
Pait said that the cases of conflict of interest were discovered accidentally as the local investigation focused on procurement issues.
“If there are problems it’s best to find out now and correct them,” Pait said. “If we find problems as we proceed, we are going to correct them and not sweep them under the rug.”
The Robesonian has tried repeatedly to speak by telephone with Commissioner Raymond Cummings, the current chairman of the Housing Authority Board. The board, which oversees administration of the authority, is made up of the eight Robeson County commissioners.
The Robeson County Housing Authority is responsible for maintaining 290 units across Robeson County.