By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed announced on Monday, May 13 that the Qualla Housing Authority (QHA) has received its first clean in audit in over 10 years.
The audit, which was analyzed in October 2018, shows that the QHA addressed the five findings from 2017’s report, while also having no new findings for this year’s report. Though there are still recommendations for improvements, Chief Sneed says that this a significant step in the right direction.
“We are getting the organization to a place where it can function and operate and deliver the services it is intended to deliver,” said Chief Sneed.
The report was performed by Melissa B. Peterson, CPA, who has overseen the QHA audit the last three years. Protocol usually has the same reviewer for three to five years, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is expected to look towards a new auditor for the 2019 report. The primary difference between this year’s audit and years passed is who was involved with the primary operations of the QHA.
Up until the 2017 audit, those operations were in the hands of the QHA Board. That board consists primarily of members of Tribal Council. Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell is the chairman of the QHA Board.
Rep. Shell said that the primary issue in previous years was staffing. The QHA was, like a lot of functions in the Tribe, hit hard by former Chief Patrick Lambert’s Early Retirement Act. There was difficulty filling positions, especially in contracting, and many employees who stayed on were forced into interim roles to pick up the slack.
After the 2017 report, the primary responsibilities were handed to the Chief’s Office. Chief Sneed appointed Travis Smith as Secretary of the QHA in December 2017, and Smith immediately went to work.
“I started reviewing their documents, their policies, their procedures, and kind of to see where they were at and what they had going on. I noticed a deficiency of all their procedures at that point in time,” Smith said.
Smith said that the program was extremely behind from an administrative standpoint. The policies were outdated, and so were most of the technologies used in the offices.
“We had no financial director. Leadership was lacking in a lot of places, there was no accountability. Some of the things we started focusing on required people to step up and do a lot of extra work. I have to take my hat off to Maceta Bradley, she stepped up. I put her in an interim position and she ran with it.”
Bradley is still the interim Finance Director at QHA, and it’s a position that has been difficult to fill.
“I think that has a lot to do with the FBI investigation that’s going on. They don’t want to be tied to the finances of Qualla Housing when they’re investigating the financials of Qualla Housing,” said Smith.
Smith was transferred from his position this year to his current role as governmental affairs liaison for the Tribe. This was about a month before the new findings were released. Brandon Stevens, who is also the EBCI Director of Realty Services, was appointed as the Interim Secretary of the QHA in April.
One of the issues still lingering with the QHA is the ‘duplicate services’ with other tribal programs. Chief Sneed has gone before Council to try and merge the QHA and Housing and Community Development (HCD) programs for the last year and a half, but nothing has come of it.
“I just tried to withdraw it. Because it was clear to me that it wasn’t going to happen. As I’ve said repeatedly about the merger of the two programs, this isn’t something Richie Sneed came up with. Patrick Lambert tried to do it, Michelle Hicks tried to do it. It gets shot down every time,” said Chief Sneed.
“So that day in Council I just said to the Council members, ‘if it’s a yes then say yes, if it’s a no then say no.’ Let’s stop kicking the can down the road. ‘Maybe we should have another work session.’ I said ‘we’ve had seven works sessions already.’”