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Roanoke Rapids releases minutes from meetings on Parton Theatre

Posted May 1, 2009

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— Roanoke Rapids City Attorney M. Glynn Rollins Jr. withheld the Roanoke Rapids Theatre’s financial information from council members to protect the city if the project were to fail, according to closed door meeting documents released Friday.

The minutes document the council’s split with one-time owner Randy Parton and the city’s deal with the theater’s new owner, Chicago businessman Lafayette Gatling.

On Sept. 17, 2007, Councilman Jon Baker asked Rollins, Mayor D.N. Beale and City Manager Phyllis P. Lee which person had the authority to withhold the theater's’s financial information from the council, closed session minutes showed.

Beale stated he acted on the advice of Rollins, who told Baker he did not have the “right to request the information.”

Rollins went on to say he did not want the city to have the information because “if this project tanks, we do not want to appear that we were involved in the operation of the theater,” the minutes stated.

“If something bad happens, we will end up in some kind of mess, whether it be eviction or a lawsuit, where Randy Parton could say that we came in and messed up everything,” the documents state Rollins said.

Parton headlined and managed a $21.5 million music theater in Roanoke Rapids that bore his name until the city cut ties with him in January 2008 over poor ticket sales and allegations of misused funds. After that, revenues at the theater continued to lag, forcing the city to raise taxes and seek a new manager or new owner.

The theater closed in July 2008 and reopened in December for a Gatling-produced Christmas show that nearly filled the 1,500-seat facility.

Under the agreement, Gatling assumed control of the theater and will make monthly payments to the city until the price is paid in full.

The city, which initially borrowed $21.5 million to build the theater, will take a loss on the project and will have to repay the remaining $9 million to Bank of America.

Before Gatling took over the theater, minutes from a closed-door July 31, 2008, meeting show Raleigh-native and “American Idol” finalist Clay Aiken and the mother of his child, Jaymes Foster, had each contacted Lee regarding their interest in the theater.

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