Carolina Journal News Reports
Country music star Dolly Parton is shown above in November 2004 on a visit to North Carolina. Shown are (left to right) Deb Parton, Dolly Parton, Randy Parton, Rick Watson's friend Brenda Womble, and Northeast Commission President and CEO Rick Watson.
RALEIGH — The Partons stretched the adage “wearing out your welcome” to new limits when ordering wardrobes with public money, according to Randy Parton Theatre documents obtained from North Carolina’s Northeast Commission.
The documents show that public employees were arranging for $600 custom pants for Randy Parton and a custom girdle for his wife, Deb, both paid for with public funds more than a year before the theater opened.
Also among the documents was a letter from Dolly Parton claiming her brother was the best singer in the music business.
Dolly Parton’s letter of Nov. 2, 2004, was addressed to Rick Watson. The president and CEO of the Northeast Commission, Watson was responsible for the Parton Theatre concept. Dolly’s letter indicates she believed that Watson was the owner of the company planning to build multiple theaters in northeastern North Carolina.
“My brother, Randy, told me about your plans to possibly build some entertainment venues in your area. I think it sounds great, according to all Randy tells me about the area and you as an impressive investment company. Randy says you’ve shown interest in having him possibly perform at one of your theaters,” she wrote.
Dolly also added high praise for her brother’s talents. “I’d like to say on behalf of Randy, not just as a brother but as a singer and entertainer, that I don’t think you could do better. Randy is a wonderful human being, honest, devoted, trustworthy, a great brother and honestly I don’t think there’s a better singer, writer or performer in the music business today, no matter how big the star. I think it sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you as well as Randy.”
Pants and girdle
Parton’s first show in Roanoke Rapids didn’t take place until July 26, 2007, but the Parton team began working on his image more than a year in advance.
On Feb. 7, 2006 Cathy Scott, a contract employee of the Northeast Commission, sent an e-mail message to “Brian,” an associate of New York costume designer William Ivey Long, with a copy of the message to Watson. The subject was custom clothing for Randy Parton and his wife.
“I spoke to Randy and he has approved up to $2,500 as requested for the costs associated with ‘design options’ for Randy’s look. I have prepared a purchase order for Randy to sign next week,” Scott wrote. “If there are future costs you anticipate, Randy’s working off a purchase order system so please let him/me know.”
On Feb. 8 Brian responded, “I do anticipate future costs for clothing for Randy and Deb. This $2,500 is to get us started. It all depends on how large a wardrobe we are looking to assemble.”
“The first two custom items we want to do are the following. As discussed, the first is to have a pants pattern made for Randy. We will have a sample pair ready to fit when he arrives. Also, we are thinking of an all-purpose foundation garment for Deb. Custom pants for men tend to run in the $600 per pair range, with no embroidery details, and for a ladies foundation, it would probably be about that or just a bit more,” Brian wrote. Sources close to the theater project confirmed that the type of foundation garment referred to was a girdle.
Deb Parton was never expected to perform at the theater. CJ has been unable to determine why any of her apparel was paid for with public funds.
Records obtained from Roanoke Rapids show city funds turned over to Parton were paid to William Ivey Long, Inc. in April 2006.
Parton could not produce the crowds and revenue necessary to pay off the money that Roanoke Rapids borrowed for the project, so the city cut his pay and hired a new management team. City officials refused to let him perform after they say he showed up intoxicated on Dec. 6, and he was not allowed to perform again. On Jan. 8 the city council renamed the facility the Roanoke Rapids Theatre.
The Northeast Commission, which has its headquarters in Edenton, is a 16-county regional economic development organization created by the General Assembly. The governor, the Senate president pro tem and the speaker of the House appoint its 19 members.
The commission terminated Watson’s employment in March 2006 after a report from the state auditor documented numerous problems with the commission’s operations, including Watson’s business relationship with Parton while simultaneously leading the commission, a state economic development agency.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.