ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — A lawsuit alleging country music singer Randy Parton and others lured the city of Roanoke Rapids into a troubled theater project is frivolous and politically motivated, one of the defendants said Thursday.
"The fact that the city made a decision – or its elected officials made a decision – to do business or to finance the theater – I think that's irrelevant to me or Randy Parton," said Rick Watson, former president and chief executive officer of the Northeastern North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission.
The North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law – an anti-economic-incentives group funded partially by former conservative state lawmaker Art Pope – filed the suit Thursday. It claims Parton, Watson and others lured the city into an agreement to build the former Randy Parton Theatre so that they could personally profit at taxpayers' expense.
The complaint alleges they made false statements, withheld material facts, breached their fiduciary duties to taxpayers and ignored substantial conflicts of interest.
The city, which issued $21.5 million in bonds to pay for the theater project, is not named in the suit. It does have the option to join in the suit, however.
"I don't know what the definition of 'lure' is, but what we did was go to several communities and ask them if they'd be interested in a venue of this nature," Watson said. "We were concentrating on private developers to form a partnership with Parton and create an entertainment venue."
NCICL is representing Jim Garrett, a Roanoke Rapids resident and a long-time critic of the theater project. It was billed as a way to help boost the city's struggling economy, but critics say it has only ended up costing the city.
“The City of Roanoke Rapids was sold on the concept of the theater as a way to bring new jobs and revitalization to their struggling town,” said Jeanette Doran, NCICL's senior staff attorney. "But all the people got was a $21.5 million debt that they are going to have to repay.”
The city has spent about $739,000 more than it has brought in since the 1,500-seat facility, now called The Roanoke Rapids Theatre, opened in 2006. Part of the loss comes from a $547,000 buyout of Parton's management contract after the city cut ties with him in December.
Roanoke Rapids leaders have considered a 5-cent increase in the property tax rate to help make up for the loss.
"As a taxpayer of Roanoke Rapids, I'm pretty mad," Garrett said at a news conference Thursday. "I think that all of the taxpayers of our city have been taken advantage of."