After intense public scrutiny about hurricane disaster response, Ivan Duncan, a top official at ReBuild NC, is resigning

By: - November 10, 2022 2:07 pm

Ivan Duncan, chief program delivery officer with ReBuild NC, at the Sept. 14 joint legislative oversight committee on hurricane recovery (Screenshot from hearing)

Ivan Duncan, whose tenure as chief program delivery officer with ReBuild NC has come under increased scrutiny, is resigning, sources told Policy Watch.

A ReBuild NC spokesperson confirmed to Policy Watch that “Mr. Duncan has given notice that he intends to pursue a new opportunity and will be leaving his position. NCORR relayed this information to legislative staff this morning.”

Duncan has been in charge of the embattled homeowner recovery programs for Hurricanes Matthew and Florence since April 2019, when he was hired by ReBuild NC Director Laura Hogshead. ReBuild NC is also known by its formal name, the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

Duncan earns more than $139,000 annually.

However, over the past three and half years, the homeowner recovery program has largely failed, a Policy Watch investigation found; only 814 homes have been built of 4,275 eligible applications. Of those 814 homes, 201 were built by Robeson County in 2018 and 2019, when it ran its own program with HUD funds. That means the actual number of homes reconstructed or rehabbed under ReBuild NC is 613.

Some homeowners have been living in motels for as long as three years, waiting for their homes to be completed — or even for the work to start. ReBuild NC has spent more than $13 million to house displaced homeowners in motels, apartments or with friends/family, state records show.

On Sept. 14, members of a joint legislative oversight committee grilled Duncan and Hogshead over the program’s inadequacies. At that meeting, Duncan appeared defensive and at times, even dismissive, of homeowners’ concerns.

A separate HUD audit showed that the ReBuild NC had failed to adequately document $2.5 million in expenditures for Hurricane Matthew recovery.

As Policy Watch has reported as part of its ongoing investigation, Duncan’s tenure has been fraught with controversy. Several contractors have told Policy Watch that Duncan’s demeanor is “abusive.” During weekly in-person contractor meetings, he routinely required contractors to turn off their phones and place them in a bucket to avoid being recorded. He discontinued that policy only after Hogshead, herself under scrutiny, directed him to allow contractors to keep their phones.

Yet those meetings were still documented. According to notes taken by a contractor during weekly meetings, Duncan appeared to have given Rescue Construction preferential treatment in evaluating its performance. Based in Raleigh, Rescue has been awarded more than $80 million in contracts to rebuild or renovate hurricane-damaged homes, more than any other general contractor. Duncan also reportedly said he worked in “gray areas,” according to the notes.

  • Duncan reportedly told inspectors in May 2021 not to visit homes Rescue had built. This allowed Rescue to sidestep oversight.
  • Duncan also allegedly allowed Rescue to delay starting some of its construction projects, according to notes taken in May 2020. That’s important because contractors’ performance and eligibility to bid on future contracts is based in part on their completion rate.
  • Other examples of alleged preferential treatment include Duncan’s edict to pay Rescue to move a household for the second time; other general contractors were not given the same consideration, the notes say.
  • Last year, the notes indicate Duncan also looked favorably upon RHD, another contractor. However, the notes show that RHD hesitated to accept Duncan’s offers.

Four former Rescue employees told Policy Watch that Duncan often visited the company’s office; these employees referred to the program as the “Ivan and Sheila show,” referring to Sheila Brewington, the company’s president. Rescue has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or that it received preferential treatment.

From February 2015 to April 2019, Duncan had worked at the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery overseeing buyouts and acquisitions related to Hurricane Sandy; he then switched to a top position within program delivery – a job similar to the one he now holds at ReBuild NC.

“We recruited him to come and bring all of his [disaster relief] knowledge to North Carolina,” Hogshead told Policy Watch earlier this year.

At the Sept. 14 legislative committee meeting, Duncan told lawmakers that he had been “very successful” during his stint at the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery: Ivan Duncan responds to Rep. Jones at legislative hearing

However, a month before Duncan left New York a HUD Inspector General’s report dated March 2019 found deficiencies in how that program was run. The audit found the State of New York “disbursed more than $3.5 million for ineligible properties and incentives and more than $5.9 million for property that it could not show met applicable requirements. “HUD did not have assurance that Disaster Recovery funds were used for their intended purpose,” the report reads.

The Inspector General’s office concluded that New York State “did not have adequate controls over the acquisition component of its program and refiled on applicants and the work of other entities to justify awards to homeowners without verifying the information.”

The report did not mention Duncan by name, so it is unclear who was ultimately responsible for the failures. However, he did serve in that agency’s leadership and was directly over the buyout and acquisition program.

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.