No encore for Roanoke Rapids mayor, councilmen
Posted November 4, 2009 5:24 p.m. EST
Updated November 5, 2009 11:01 a.m. EST
Roanoke Rapids, N.C. — The mayor and two members of the City Council were ousted in landslide elections Tuesday, and observers said the voters reflect local residents' frustrations over the music theater the council brought to town a few years ago.
Roanoke Rapids took out a $21.5 million loan to build a 1,500-seat entertainment complex that was initially headed by and named for country music singer Randy Parton, the brother of entertainer Dolly Parton. Officials expected the project would spur growth along Interstate 95 and generate enough tax revenue to pay off the loan.
"Everybody was on board. Everybody was excited," Mayor Drewery Beale said, recalling the hundreds of people who showed up in 2005 for the groundbreaking.
The excitement didn't last, however. The city's relationship with Randy Parton quickly soured amid allegations he misspent money and showed up drunk at a performance.
The City Council approved a $547,000 settlement in March 2008 to buy out Parton's contract, and they pulled his name off the theater, renaming it the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
Slow ticket sales prompted officials to close the theater temporarily in the summer of 2008 and forced the City Council to approve a five-cent increase to the local tax rate to help pay off the loan, which runs through 2027. The city sold the theater a year ago in a lease-purchase deal to a Chicago businessman for $12.5 million.
"A lot of people were upset. They thought some things went on that should have not (gone) on," Beale said.
Voters made their feelings clear Tuesday, electing Emery Doughtie mayor over Beale by a 76 to 24 percent margin. City Council members Ed Deese and Jon Baker lost by similar margins.
"There's little doubt that the voters wanted a change," said John Moeur, managing editor of The Daily Herald newspaper in Roanoke Rapids. "It's three-to-one (margins) almost across the board for the three incumbents."
Even Doughtie was stunned by the landslide vote.
"I was very much astonished to have won by the size of the victory that I did. I expected it to be a much closer race, running against an incumbent," he said.
Beale, who plans to volunteer selling tickets at the music theater after he leaves office in December, said he believes the venue will be successful one day. He said he hopes Roanoke Rapids will remember what he and the City Council did to help get it to that point.
"I tried so hard to make a difference, and I think I have made a difference," he said.
Tax threat does in Morrisville mayor
A grassroots effort in Morrisville led to the ouster of incumbents there. Mayor Jan Faulkner was soundly beaten in Tuesday's election.
During her single term, Faulkner drew criticism for a proposed tax hike. Jackie Holcombe will take her place.