Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — The city attorney of Roanoke Rapids, in a letter dated Friday, responded to a written public records request by Carolina Journal by again refusing to release financial statements from the Randy Parton Theatre.
CJ, through its lawyer, John Bussian of Raleigh, had sent a letter Friday morning to City Manager Phyllis Lee repeating a reporter’s earlier oral request for the records. Lee also had refused the newspaper’s initial demand.
City Attorney M. Glynn Rollins Jr. said in his letter that the city cannot release the records because they were designated by the operator of the theater, Moonlight Bandit Productions, LLC, as “confidential” and a “trade secret.” The company’s designation exempted the records from the requirements of the N.C. Public Records Law, Rollins maintained.
“Moonlight Bandit Productions, LLC (the Company) is the sole operator of the Randy Parton Theater,” Rollins’s letter said. “The City of Roanoke Rapids merely leases the theater facility to the Company. Any financial information that has been given to the City by Company [sic] has been provided only because of the contractual obligations of the Economic Development Agreement and the other related documents ancillary to the agreement, such as the Sublease Agreement and the Lease-Purchase Agreement, between the city and the Company.”
“It is important to note that except for these contractual provisions, the Company would have no obligation to disclose any financial information to the City concerning the operation of the theater,” the letter stated.
Bussian disputed Lee’s contention, the same as Rollins’s, that the financial records may be kept from the public.
“Please bear in mind that a non-governmental agency’s marking or stamping a record as ‘proprietary and confidential’ does not make the record confidential and exempt from public inspection. Indeed, nothing about a publicly-funded enterprise, which is required to and does file financial statements with a municipality like yours, can be considered exempt from disclosure under the North Carolina Public Records Act,” Bussian wrote in a letter to Roanoke Rapids city officials.
The city borrowed $21.5 million to build and launch the theater and it retains title to the property. Another $5 million in state funds has been spent in support of the project. The theater was completed in March and it is leased to Moonlight Bandit Productions, Parton’s company.
According to an agreement with the city, Moonlight Bandit has almost total control of theater operations and is responsible for making monthly payments to cover the city’s loan on the project. The agreement also requires Moonlight Bandit to deliver quarterly financial statements to the city 15 days after the end of each quarter. The most recent statement was due July 15.
CJ Editor Richard Wagner said obtaining the financial statements for the theater operation is important for two reasons. “First, the taxpayers of Roanoke Rapids and North Carolina need to see how Parton’s company is managing their investment. Second, this was the first tax-increment financing project approved in North Carolina, and the public deserves to see whether these deals operate as originally advertised by state officials,” he said.
State voters approved tax-increment financing, or TIF, in November 2004 under the non-descript title “Amendment One.” It is a device that allows localities to issue government debt without a vote by citizens. Localities may designate TIF zones, which allow rising property values within the zones to pay off bonds with higher property-tax collections.
Opponents of tax-increment financing say it is a gimmick that enables local politicians to insert their power, and their tax-free bonding ability, into risky economic endeavors outside the proper scope of government.
Wagner said that’s why the public must be allowed access to the financial records of TIF-backed projects. “Otherwise, government officials and their business partners will have carte blanche to create any boondoggle they wish, all at enormous expense to taxpayers.”
Local officials expect the 35,000-square-foot, 1,500-seat theater to be the anchor of the 1,000-acre Carolina Crossroads entertainment and retail development, off Interstate 95 south of Roanoke Rapids.
The theater’s first show featuring Parton and his newly formed band, The Moonlight Bandits, was Thursday night. A schedule posted on rptheatre.com indicates the shows will run Wednesdays through Saturdays for the remainder of the year. No other acts are listed.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.