Answers, openness mandatory even in show business

Published 3:28 pm Monday, December 3, 2007

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in the Daily Herald of Roanoke Rapids.)
Roanoke Rapids is now in show business. The city didn’t start out with the idea of running a first-class theater, booking talent and filling its 1,500-seat auditorium enough times to pay the millions it borrowed to build it. They expected Randy Parton to do that. He didn’t.
At least part of the city’s dream derailed last week when the City Council voted to terminate Randy Parton’s direct control over the theater that bares his name.
The ‘‘deal’’ ends Parton’s day-to-day management of the city-owned entertainment complex built with a $21-million bond package, shuffles hundreds of thousands of dollars between the city and Mr. Parton and leaves many folks wondering who’s on first, or perhaps who’s holding the bag?
The deal was hatched in secret but approved in public by a 3-2 vote. Council members Reggie Baird, Edward Dees and Ernest Bobbitt said yes. Carl Ferebee and Jon Baker, no. Mayor Drewery Beale isn’t allowed to vote except in case of a tie but he has heartily endorsed the new agreement.
The fine points of the agreement are still being examined and the final contract with a Massachusetts-based firm expected to run the enterprise has yet to be signed. While much is known, many questions remain.
The mayor assures us the new contract is different. Beginning with the Nov. 21 performance, the city will have all the attendance and revenue figures, and the numbers will be available to the public. ‘‘All of them,’’ he told the Daily Herald.
But what of a public accounting of the $2.5 million given to Mr. Parton from the $3 million startup fund. How was that money spent? By whom? Why? On that note, the city is still silent. It is a hush that must be shattered with facts, figures and the truth. There must be a way to respect Mr. Parton’s claim to financial privacy and still meet, what we also believe is the public’s overriding right to know. The new contract is meant to breathe new life into the theater and its operation, not continue the shadow of secrecy the city encouraged to fester with the first deal. We urge our city leaders to find a way to make these records open.
The shows performed by Randy Parton, his Moonlight Bandit band and the other entertainers in his troupe are first-rate. It is good to hear he may perform at least 36 times during the coming year but we are bothered by the fact he is guaranteed a $250,000 a year salary regardless of whether or not he ever steps on the stage.
On the plus side, the city does promise a new era at the theater. In a press release, future shows promise to include ‘‘country, gospel, rock and beach music acts along with Broadway shows and various other theatrical productions.’’
We are also bothered by the city’s decision to pay Mr. Parton and Moonlight Bandit Production Ltd.’s bills — about $220,000. True the city is getting nearly $310,000 from Parton’s bank holdings, but we have to ask, ‘‘How much of that money is part of the original $2.5 million given Mr. Parton? How much has the theater brought in?’’ And finally, where did the rest of the $2.5 million go?
We’re pleased the city is willing to share its information with the public. It should. Keeping secrets from the governed is a virus capable of killing democracy and destroying trust. We plan on holding Mayor Beale and the council to their promise of openness. We will continue to push to learn the details of what happened before Tuesday’s contract approval and the beginning of a new ‘‘era of openness.’’ The people have a right to know. We don’t believe you can build a strong future on a foundation of questionable stability, a base held together by a ribbon of secrets that will eventually unravel threatening what, we believe, was and is a great idea — a topflight entertainment venue for the Roanoke Valley.