Aug. 5, 2003 – In spite of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's written rejection of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's positioning of an interim board to take on the task of addressing V.I. Housing Authority problems, the board met Monday, naming Elmo D. Roebuck executive director of VIHA.
But in a telephone interview on Tuesday, Roebuck said he could not comment on how he could help turn the Housing Authority around — because he has not yet been offered a contract.
Roebuck, a former housing commissioner and Senate president who has been an aide to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, said he expects to meet with the board around Aug. 14. At that meeting, he said, he hopes to work out details concerning the executive director's duties and the board's expectations — and to reach an agreement on addressing VIHA's problems.
That timetable seemed at odds with the Aug. 11 deadline set by HUD for the V.I. government to demonstrate that a list of deficiencies spelled out in a letter from Assistant Secretary Michael Liu is incorrect.
Among the problems Liu cited were failure to reconcile old account balances, discrepancies in the amount of federal funds received for designated programs such as development and capital spending, and failure to properly track the spending of federal funds as proof that monies were spent on projects and programs approved by HUD.
Liu had given Housing Authority officials until 5 p.m. Friday to submit voluntarily to federal receivership, a deadline that the administration ignored. Liu has indicated he now wants mandatory receivership, something Roebuck says he opposes.
"I don't like to see the idea of a problem with respect to the federal government moving to take over any agency of this government," Roebuck said. "Over the years, in my public service, I've fought ferociously for protecting our ability to run our own government and to be self-sustaining and to do all of the things that are required for self government. When we get involved in admitting we cannot run our own affairs, I think that is a disservice to the people of the Virgin Islands."
His words were in harmony with those expressed last week by the governor in a letter to Liu expressing opposition to both voluntary and involuntary receivership for VIHA. Turnbull reiterated that stand Monday in a Government House release.
At the same time, Roebuck thinks it's unprecedented for the federal government to move so aggressively against a territorial agency. "I can't remember any situation or event where the federal government threatened to take over a local entity of the government of the Virgin Islands," he said.
The former special assistant and financial consultant to the governor expressed concern that a federal takeover at VIHA could lead to similar action against other V.I. agencies that receive federal funding.
Roebuck did not dispute HUD's findings of VIHA funding discrepancies but said he would like to see an audit of the Housing Authority.
"I have read about problems with the finances at the Housing Authority," he said. "I believe in getting down to brass tacks. You have to go into the authority and you have to do some very comprehensive auditing to determine whether all of the claims that are being made by the federal government are correct," he said. "And if they are, there has to be some consequences for that."
Roebuck also declined to respond when asked if he felt that HUD was serious about the threatened mandatory receivership. He said he preferred not to express his own opinions or antagonize any of the parties involved in trying to improve the financial picture at the Housing Authority.
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