Published On: Fri, Nov 2nd, 2018

Council considers QHA merge

 

By JOSEPH MARTIN

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

Tribal Council is still considering a proposal to dissolve Qualla Housing Authority (QHA) as the tribally designated housing entity (TDHE) for purposes of funding and to have the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ housing division merge the duties of the authority. The resolution authorizing the action says that doing so will improve internal efficiency. Tribal Council tabled the proposal at its Thursday, Nov. 1 session.

Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, said, “We’re not dissolving QHA, we’re dissolving TDHE so that the funding will come directly to (housing).”

Real and personal property belonging to QHA would be vested in and belong to the Tribe. All judgments, liens, rights of liens and causes of action of any nature in favor of QHA would remain and be vested in benefit to the tribe. Legal actions taken by QHA, whether pending against or taken by QHA would continue as if the dissolution hadn’t occurred, and the tribe would be a party to such actions. The tribe would also assume any obligations of QHA, including debts. QHA’s rules, regulations and policies would continue in full force.

A move was made by Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe to withdraw the legislation. No one seconded it. Sneed asked Council to either pass or kill. “I really prefer an up or down vote on it,” he said. “No hard feelings either way.” That didn’t happen either.

Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah moved to pass with a second from Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, but ultimately the move from Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell to table won.

Qualla Housing Authority has had its share of controversy recently. FBI agents raided the facility in February of 2017, and they removed file cabinets full of documents. An Oct. 14, 2016 letter to then QHA Director Charlene Owle from Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lee Edwards stated they were investigating allegations of fraud in the federally-funded program, and the program was instructed to not destroy any paper or electronic documents. The U.S. Attorney’s office would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

Questions about duplicating services, and costs of using outside services for accounting were also concerns. Sneed said merging the two programs’ services would save $2.5 million. QHA employees would become tribal employees with no one losing a job, and tribal Budget and Finance would handle their finances. However, Sneed said if council didn’t support combining the services of QHA and tribal Housing and Community Development, that’s fine with him.

Sneed said that through 10 years of audits, among the repeat findings is poor record keeping. He also said duplicating services is costing the tribe money. “This is ten years plus of audits.” Other issues Sneed raised, particularly regarding how many homes had been built, were related to many tribal members not qualifying for some services because income levels have increased.

Shell argued for tabling. “I think it needs to be out there for the benefit of the employees.” Sneed disagreed with tabling and said further discussions would be fruitless. “We’ve had multiple work sessions. If it remains tabled, there’s really nothing else to say that hasn’t been said repeatedly. This is turning into an exercise in futility.”

Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha said he’d like to see some kind of plan before he can support dissolving QHA. “There’s never been a plan provided. I can’t vote to pass without knowing exactly what I’m passing. Is it going to work or isn’t it?”

Secretary of Housing Travis Smith, who requested withdrawing the resolution, answered, “The plan has been the same one for the last 10 or 12 years. I’m not doing this for myself. We’re not doing this for the Chief. We’re doing this for our tribe, and these employees. You have to look at the overall picture.”

Wachacha stuck to his stance. “Unless I have a plan, I can’t vote to pass it.”

Smith said in reference to legislation passed in 2017, “It says to merge into a single tribal housing authority. We’ve done all that. All that’s complete. The only thing left is to dissolve the TDHE and let the tribe become the recipient of the money.”

Vice Chief B. Ensley wanted to do more planning. “We knew this day was coming. Let’s table it; work out the kinks and then move forward.”

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