Maggie manager resigns, festival director fired

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Oct 03, 2013

After a week of investigating the financials surrounding the Aug. 10 Matt Stillwell concert, the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to accept the resignation of Town Manager Tim Barth and fire Audrey Hager, the town's festival grounds director.

The board received complaints about the town spending $16,000 on the concert with the agreement that the event promoter Charlie Meadows, who is also a candidate for alderman, would reimburse the town for any losses. While the concert was projected to make money, the rainy weather resulted in only 493 tickets being sold. The town ended up losing about $11,000.

Aldermen and the mayor claimed to be blindsided by the fact that the town footed the bills up front, which called the entire process into question. Hager said it was a last minute decision she and Barth made after the state denied the first alcohol permit application.

The permit was denied about two weeks before the event because the application Hager submitted stipulated that the alcohol revenue would be split by the town and Meadows. The state ABC board would only approve the permit if the town presented the event and kept all alcohol money.

Hager and Barth told the aldermen that they decided to move forward with the new permit application in the town’s name without board approval because money had already been spent on the event.

Meadows has told the board on several occasions that he was only trying to help the town by bringing additional revenue and people into the town. He now owes the town about $11,000, but he is disputing some of the expenses on his tab, including advertising commitments made before he signed a contract with Hager on Aug. 9.

Hager and Barth were suspended for a week with pay on Sept. 24 to give the board time to talk to all the town employees involved and go over the financials.

On Tuesday, the board met again in closed session to talk to Barth before making a decision. The board names Town Clerk Vickie Best as the acting town manager, directing her to dismiss Hager immediately. The board then voted unanimously to appoint Planning Director Nathan Clark as the interim town manager effective Monday.

After the meeting, Alderman Mike Matthews said there had been too many issues related to Hager and the festival grounds that need to be addressed.

“Tim (Barth) is a great guy — it’s just time to move forward,” he said. “We don’t have any ill will toward him and hope the best for him moving forward.”

Alderman Phillip Wight agreed, saying that the board needed to start being part of the solution instead of doing damage control.

“We were reverting back to past issues that couldn’t be overlooked,” he said.

The board held a closed session for more than four hours on Sept. 27 and spoke to town employees about the situation.

Alderman Saralyn Price said the board investigated the complaints and “we felt that boundaries had been crossed.”

She said every process related to the festival grounds needed to be evaluated before deciding how to move forward.

“I think we need someone to take care of festival grounds, but only be involved in promoting the festival grounds and not putting on festivals,” she said.

Whatever happens, Price said the town needed a strong manager to oversee the town staff.

“I don’t think there was any malice on Tim’s part whatsoever,” she said. “It’s not an easy decision, and I hate that it turned out this way it did. I wish them the best of luck in the future.”

Mayor Ron DeSimone said he believed the right decisions were made considering the situation.

“These were issues raised throughout the valley and of wide concern. Obviously there had to be some accountability, changes and repercussions,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, but we made the right decision for the citizens of Maggie Valley to show them we are taking responsibility and we’re going to make sure this thing never happens again.”

DeSimone said he couldn’t go into detail about the investigation as it pertained to personnel issues but said bad decisions were made and poor judgment was used.

“Hopefully we can adjust our policies and redefine our vision and goals for the festival grounds and prevent something like this from happening again,” he said.

He added that any policy changes would be made by the aldermen and not the festival grounds committee. As for future management, DeSimone said it’s too soon to tell.

“I think we have to define our goals and policies first. Once we know the expectations, we can define what the staffing requirements need to be,” he said. “I think the town should be facilitators of events at the festival grounds to bring business to Maggie Valley, but we shouldn’t be running those events or paying for those events or subsidizing those in any manner.”

DeSimone said he planned to consult Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown and Canton Mayor Mike Ray about hiring a new town manager because they recently went through the same process.

“I think we need a strong manager — someone to give continuity to the town regardless of what board comes and goes,” he said. “We need someone to be a strong leader.”

He added that the next order of business would be to discuss the $11,000 bill Meadows owes to the town.