Local News

Roanoke Rapids 'Divorces' Parton

Posted February 29, 2008 6:04 a.m. EST
Updated March 3, 2008 10:26 a.m. EST

— The Roanoke Rapids City Council on Friday agreed to pay Randy Parton almost $547,000 to buy out his contract to perform at and manage a local music theater that once was named for him.

Parton has been banned from performing in the $21.5 million theater since early December. City officials said he was intoxicated when he showed up for a show.

Officials also raised concerns about Parton's use of taxpayer money invested in what was called The Randy Parton Theatre for trips and alcohol. An audit showed Parton spent more than $2 million from a reserve fund within two years, some of it in Las Vegas and at liquor stores.

But the five-year contract he signed with Roanoke Rapids in November stated that the city must pay him $250,000 a year, regardless of whether he performs.

Parton demanded $1.4 million to fulfill the balance of the contract, but city officials hammered out a $750,000 settlement with Parton's lawyers – $546,986 will be paid in a lump sum, and Parton was given access to about $203,000 in three bank accounts that were already in his name. Of the money in the bank accounts, $70,000 will be kept in escrow to settle outstanding bills with vendors. Parton will keep anything not paid to vendors after 90 days.

Mayor Drewery Beale likened the agreement to a divorce. He said the settlement money would be pulled from the city's reserve fund, and no local programs from the $11 million municipal budget would be affected.

"We're not happy, but we feel like it was in the best interest of the city to go ahead and do this agreement," Beale said. "I think it's evident we made some mistakes on the contract by not having more say-so."

Also as part of the settlement, Parton agreed to waive his option to purchase the music theater, now know as Roanoke Rapids Theatre. City officials won't pursue any action with the state Local Government Commission to recover about $254,000 that was spent from the theater's reserve fund but couldn't be accounted for.

Jim Garrett, a Roanoke Rapids resident and a long-time critic of the theater project, said Parton had the city in a tough position because of the contract, so officials needed to pay up to settle the dispute.

"The City Council had their back up against the wall, and they really didn't have much of a choice," Garrett said.

Federal investigators are looking into the deals that brought Parton to Roanoke Rapids and got local taxpayers to foot the bill for the theater's construction and operation.

City Councilman Jon Baker cited the investigation in casting the lone vote against the settlement.

"While I recognize the need to move forward and put this behind us, I think it's unwise to settle while criminal investigations of the theater project are ongoing and the results unknown," Baker said. "It would be in the taxpayers' best interests to wait until the investigations are concluded before we write a check that taxpayers can ill afford."

The City Council also voted 3-1 – Baker again dissented – to transfer $372,000 from its fund balance to a reserve that, if needed, would help finance operations of the theater through the end of June.

The council also appointed Edward Liverman to fill the seat left vacant when Mayor Pro-Tem Reggie Baird resigned in protest two weeks ago over a vote to replace Boston-based UGL Unicco as theater manager.

Beale initially said the split was because the two sides couldn't agree on a contract. But Friday, he said UGL made payments without city approval, citing a $40,000 signing bonus to former theater general manager Rick Reno as an example.

Rick Benton, the city's economic development manager, will oversee theater operations for the foreseeable future, Beale said.