Emergency management leaders hold strategy meetings amidst criticism for slow hurricane recovery

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Officials with the North Carolina Emergency Management office and the Office of the Governor held a series of meetings this week to discuss how to improve the pace of Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts.

The meetings come after a WBTV investigation last week revealed the state had yet to spend any of a $236 million federal grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that is designed to help put low-income families whose homes were damaged by the hurricane back into permanent housing.

Following the investigation, Republicans and Democrats in the North Carolina House of Representatives fired questions at an official from NCEM during a hearing on disaster recovery held Monday.

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Representative John Bell (R-Wayne), who chaired the committee hearing, said he left the meeting with more questions than answers and pointed out that the NCEM representative, Assistant Director Nick Burk, was unable to answer many of the committee's questions.

WBTV has learned that NCEM leaders and staff from the Governor's Office held meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss ways in which the state can improve its hurricane recovery efforts.

On Tuesday, NCEM Director Mike Sprayberry and Burk, his deputy, met with county leaders from the four counties hit hardest by Hurricane Matthew.

The meeting was also attended by at least two staffers from Governor Roy Cooper's communications office.

Multiple sources, including one county official who attended the meeting, tell WBTV that Sprayberry told county leaders that the state wanted to take over all aspects of disaster recovery.

Such a move would be a reversal from the state's decision last year to distribute federal money to counties.

North Carolina officials are re-thinking the decision to disburse funds to the county after re-evaluating the approach South Carolina takes to disaster recovery, where federal funds are administered from one state office.

This week, the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office announced it had placed 60 families back in permanent homes that had been damaged by Matthew.

County officials, the sources said, opposed the idea, citing the state's inability to expeditiously complete tasks necessary to start spending the federal funds heretofore.

On Wednesday, a source with knowledge of North Carolina recovery efforts said a meeting was held with staff from NCEM, North Carolina Department of Commerce and staff from the Governor's Office.

The Commerce Department is the official state entity to whom the federal HUD grant is awarded.

During the meeting, state officials discussed how to "reset" recovery efforts.

During the conversation, the source told WBTV, staff reached the consensus that re-structuring how the state handles recovery efforts would only further delay the process since the state would likely have to re-do paperwork submitted to federal agencies describing how the state would administer grant money.

According to the source, officials agreed that the "best case" scenario would see work to repair and replaced damaged homes starting in four to five months, which is longer than the timeline Burk presented to lawmakers on Monday.

Sprayberry, the NCEM director, did not return a phone call or text message from a WBTV reporter seeking comment for this story.

The communications staff in Cooper's office have repeatedly ignored requests for comment from WBTV over the past two weeks seeking a statement or interview regarding ongoing hurricane recovery efforts.

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