June 30, 2013; Robesonian


Here’s a story that’s confusing and merits some clarification from our North Carolina readers. The Robesonian reports that former professional strongman Harold “Iron Bear” Collins wants the state of North Carolina to reimburse him for $2.8 million he says he spent over the past 14 years to maintain and improve the North Carolina Indian Cultural Center.

Apparently, in the welter of laws that have emerged from the governor and legislature of North Carolina recently, Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that would terminate the state’s leases with the nonprofit cultural center. The termination of the leases enables the Lumbee Tribe to buy the property along with other state-owned land in the area, southwest of Pembroke, but if it opts out, the property will be put up for auction.

According to the article, the property leased by the center totals more than 500 acres, including a defunct golf course. The Lumbee Tribe says that it will maintain the cultural center if it acquires the site, though part of it would be appended to Lumber River State Park regardless of the disposition.

Several things need clarity in this picture:

  1. How is it that Collins could have spent $2.8 million, apparently out of his pocket, with the expectation that the state would pay him back personally for whatever he incurred maintaining the Center?
  2. The last 990 that the Center posted with was dated 2003, less than 14 years ago, and Collins is not mentioned in the document as a board member or staff member. What was Collins’s authorized relationship with the Center? Note: Collins wasn’t mentioned in the organization’s 1999 Form 990 either, which the filing that preceded the 990 from 2003.
  3. As of the end of 2003, the Center had a fund balance of more than $67,000 due to $240,000 in “land sales.” What happened to the organization’s finances after 2003?
  4. Despite the absence of 990s after 2003, the Center has apparently operated at times. A legislative review in 2009 concluded that the Center had violated its lease terms by subletting to another organization and failing to maintain adequate liability insurance for the site. What have been the Center’s finances since its 990 in 2003?
  5. An unnamed “center official” said that the Center itself owned 45 acres in addition to whatever it leased from the state. If the state sale involves land that includes the Center’s welcome center and amphitheater, what is on the 45 acres that the Center owns? What will the Center do with that property if the state cancels its $1-a-year lease to the Center?

Collins said that his maintenance and improvements on the site ensured that the Center was in decent shape, only in need of some cosmetic improvements. However, a state legislative body called the site dilapidated. Moreover, a legislative audit released four years ago indicated that at that time, the Center wasn’t in bad physical condition. Somehow, during Collins’s oversight of the property, the state was able to say that it had become dilapidated (though even in 2009, the state called for a physical inspection of the buildings on the site).

Can our North Carolina readers explain Collins’s relationship with the Center and the expenditures of substantial funding over time?—Rick Cohen