Windley: County shortchanging disaster relief committee

By Bob Shiles -

Ken Windley

LUMBERTON — The leader of Robeson County’s long-term disaster recovery committee is concerned that the county government is not finacially supporting his organization’s efforts to oversee all case management for people trying to recover from Hurricane Matthew, and worries it might be personal.

“I hope this isn’t anything personal,” said Ken Windley, who used to be employed by the county commissioners as their county manager. “I hope it might be just lack of experience by the commissioners when it comes to dealing with hurricanes.”

Windley served as Robeson County’s manager from 2002 to 2010. He said he decided to retire after his relationship with some of the eight-member board soured because of differences of opinion on county issues. Since his retirement, Windley has served as the executive director of COMtech and interim county manager of a number of counties across the state.

Windley is concerned that Robeson County is not using its long-term disaster recover committee as are other counties trying to recover from Hurricane Matthew. There should be one committee overseeing case management for individual cases, rather than a number of organizations all doing their own case management, he said.

The committees were established at the directive of FEMA and the state.

According to Windley, the county has contracted with the Lumber River Council of Governments to handle the individual case management side of permanent housing, while his organization of about 45 members from 20 community-related organizations is responsible for finding permanent solutions to a hurricane survivor’s personal needs other than housing.

“As far as I know we are the only county in the state that has a long-term disaster recovery committee that is not designated by the county to be responsible for all case management for individual hurricane survivors,” he said. “By having another group oversee housing we are adding another step that we don’t want people to have to go through.”

Windley said that there remain a lot of people who need their hands “held” as they work through the process of getting aid, and that is committee can provide that help.

His organization hasn’t received any money from the county, Windley said. It consists of unpaid volunteers.

“We have been operating mostly on individual and group donations,” he said

Windley last week appeared before the Robeson County Board of Commissioners and asked the board for $10,000 to help his committee do its job. He also is planning to ask city leaders for $10,000.

Windley told the commissioners that there are still about 250 families in hotels with no place to go and “a lot of people” staying in private homes with no place to go.

Windley said Tuesday his committee is pursuing grants to assist renters and property owners who need help getting their rental property back in shape so they can lease it to families in need of permanent housing.

County Manager Ricky Harris said he is not sure if the commissioners are going to provide any money to the long-term recovery committee.

“That’s a decision the commissioners have to make,” he said.

Harris defended the county’s use of the Lumber River Council of Governments to oversee individual case management of housing needs.

“Do you think it might be that the Council of Governments has experience in this area?” Harris said.

Harris would not comment when asked if the commissioners were not supporting the county’s recovery committee because it is led by Windley. The Robesonian could not reach Tom Taylor, the board’s chairman, or Raymond Cummings, the board’s vice chairman on Tuesday for comment.

Harris said that he, Windley, FEMA officials and some county commissioners are meeting today and that he is optimistic that a satisfactory plan for everyone can be hatched.

Windley has experience when it comes to overseeing disaster-related recovery. More than 20 years ago, when he was manager in Carteret County, he worked with that county’s long-term disaster recovery committee to address hurricane-related problems, Windley said. Later, as an interim manager in Beaufort County, he worked to finish up recovery efforts that had started three years before he became the interim manager.

Ken Windley Windley

By Bob Shiles

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

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