Shake up at ReBuild NC: Richard Trumper, who successfully managed state disaster relief, headed to beleaguered agency

Richard Trumper, head of disaster recovery at the state Office of Management and Budget, testified at a legislative oversight hearing in September. Seated behind him are Geraldine and Willie Williams, who had been living in a one-room motel for more than two years waiting for their home to be rebuilt (Photo: Screenshot from committee livestream)

This is a developing story.

Richard Trumper, the director of disaster recovery at the Office of State Budget and Management, is leaving that post for a job at ReBuild NC, which is under public and legislative scrutiny for mismanaging its program.

Policy Watch confirmed the change with OSBM. In a prepared statement an OSBM spokesperson said that Trumper “has notified” the office “that he will be leaving his role at our agency for a position at the NC Department of Public Safety.” DPS oversees ReBuild NC, also known as the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

It’s unclear whether Trumper would supervise Laura Hogshead, currently the director of ReBuild NC, who is responsible for the program’s failures.

OSBM referred those questions to DPS. Spokespersons for DPS and ReBuild NC could not be immediately reached for comment.

An ongoing Policy Watch investigation has revealed systemic mismanagement within ReBuild NC’s disaster relief program. This includes preferential treatment given to one contractor, Rescue Construction Solutions, as documented in weekly contractor meeting notes; a lack of accountability and transparency, as well as a pattern of half-truths. Most important, though, is the harm to survivors of Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. Thousands of people have been living for as long as three years in one-star motels or in their dilapidated houses waiting for repairs or reconstruction. At least a dozen people have died waiting to return home, according to state records and homeowner reports. Meanwhile, ReBuild NC has spent exorbitant amounts, upward of $15 million, to temporarily house survivors in motels, with family or very occasionally, apartments.

OSBM’s disaster recovery program differs from ReBuild NC : OSBM uses state dollars and serves disaster survivors who don’t qualify for FEMA or other federal assistance through ReBuild NC. ReBuild NC receives federal money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has its own regulations on spending and management. HUD cited ReBuild NC in September for failing to account for $2.5 million in disaster relief spending.

Trumper, a former general contractor, joined OSBM in January 2019. He testified at a legislative government oversight hearing in September, explaining how OSBM managed to avoid significant pandemic-related construction delays in enabling hurricane survivors to return home. Since August 2018, the OSBM program has been funded by $186 million in state money. Of the 1,034 households who applied for relief through OSBM, 927 were approved. And of those, 903 – 97% of families – have returned home, Trumper testified.

By comparison, as of Jan. 11, just 927 of 4,301 applicants in the ReBuild NC program are in the final “Step 8,” according to weekly legislative reports that are mandated by state lawmakers. But even the 927 figure is misleading. At least 24 of those homeowners accepted ReBuild NC’s offer to reimburse them up to $5,000 for future repairs. The homeowners would ostensibly hire their own contractors with the money, according to legislative testimony in December. And another 201 homes were completed by Robeson County’s local program in 2018 and 2019. That leaves just 702 homes that have been either rebuilt or rehabbed since funding became available in 2018 and 2019.

Several people have left ReBuild NC in the last two months. Most notably, Ivan Duncan, the former chief program delivery officer, abruptly resigned in mid-November. Duncan was central to Policy Watch’s investigation, based on confirmed reports of his abusive behavior toward contractors and his favoritism toward Rescue Construction Solutions. Jaime Fuquay, head of external affairs, recently left for a “dream job,” according to her post on LinkedIn. And Kathy Estrada, who worked as a Quality Control Manager, left ReBuild NC, effective Jan. 4.  Moneka Jani, who was ReBuild NC’s chief recovery officer until May, when she became an “advisor,” has also left the agency, according to sources familiar with personnel matters.

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Shake up at ReBuild NC: Richard Trumper, who successfully managed state disaster relief, headed to beleaguered agency