Maggie officials suspended
Maggie Valley Festival Grounds Director Audrey Hager and Town Manager Tim Barth were both suspended with pay by the board of aldermen on Tuesday following a two-hour closed session.
At issue is about $16,000 the town paid for a concert at the festival grounds which was rained out and ended up losing money. The concert promoter, Charlie Meadows, is on the festival grounds board and is an alderman candidate.
Town leaders said they had no idea the town advanced funds for the event.
A special-called meeting Tuesday focused on the Aug. 10, Matt Stillwell concert and events leading up to it. After discussing the issue for about an hour, the board voted to go into closed session to discuss personnel matters. While residents from the audience wanted to have public comment, Mayor Ron DeSimone would not allow it.
“We’re not taking public comment on this issue — this is a board discussion,” he said.
The vote to enter closed session passed 3-1 with Alderman Phillip Wight opposing.
“I’m not in favor of going into closed session when people have comments,” he said.
Members of the audience were also against the closed session.
“I object to a closed session because you’re not going into closed session to discuss personnel,” yelled Jay Ring from the back of the room.
After being in closed session for two hours, the board unanimously suspended Barth and Hager until the special-called meeting is reconvened at 6 p.m. Oct. 2. The board hopes to have more financial information at that point about the concert from Shayne Wheeler, the town's financial director. Another closed session will be held at 9 a.m. Friday morning during a called board meeting.
The concert financials were called into question last month when residents voiced opposition to the town using tax dollars to front the costs. The event promoter Charlie Meadows, who is also an alderman candidate and member of the festivals advisory committee, signed a contract with the town on Aug. 9 stating he would “pay all expenses paid by the Town of Maggie Valley on behalf of the Matt Stillwell concert.”
While the board agreed to allow the concert to be held at the festival grounds, aldermen and DeSimone claimed they were unaware the town was paying all the costs upfront.
Hager told the board she found out July 26 that the state alcohol permit application for the event was rejected because it stated the alcohol sales would be split — 70 percent going to the promoter and 30 percent to the town. The ABC board said the concert would have to be “presented” by the town and the town would have to keep 100 percent of the alcohol proceeds to receive a permit.
“We spent money in July (for advertising) but the contract is from Aug. 9,” Wight said. “Why didn’t it come to the board?”
Hager said she didn’t report to the board — she reported directly to Barth. When she got the permit denial, she said she got approval from Barth to resubmit the permit application with the needed changes.
“We had already committed to expenses at that time so the town would have lost money,” she said. “I got approval from Tim to place advertising through the town — we’ve done that for other promoters.” She added that she would prefer to talk about the issue in closed session.
Alderman Mike Matthews said he was unclear about what the board could discuss in open session and what needed to wait until closed session. Town Attorney Chuck Dickson offered no clarification.
Wight said Meadows received his bill for the concert the Monday, the day before the meeting, and may question some of his expenses.
Meadows told the board he and Hager had a verbal agreement that the alcohol sales would go toward covering the expenses of the concert. However, the $4,000 in alcohol revenue was not subtracted from the final bill he received from the town for about $11,000. He said he should not be responsible for paying any of the expenses paid by the town before he signed the contract on Aug. 9.
“If you do me dirty, I’m going to do you dirty,” Meadows told the board.
Hager said she thought she made the best decision to make the town money with the concert and there wasn’t time to have a vote by the board.
“Sometimes you make decisions and they don’t always go the right way,” she said. “I apologize that the board didn’t know but truthfully this was a very small window of opportunity — if it hadn’t rained it was a no brainer.”
According to town documents, the concert was anticipated to sell about 2,000 tickets, only 493 tickets were sold.
Wight asked Hager who else was aware of the new permitting implications.
Hager said she had a discussion in the clerk’s office with Barth.
“Who else was in the room?” Wight questioned.
Hager said DeSimone and Jim Blyth, a Maggie Valley resident, were also in the office.
DeSimone admitted he and Blyth were in the office. But he said all he gathered from the conversation was that the town would have to apply differently for ABC permits because of a new state board. Since Blyth has assisted the town in drafting legislation before, DeSimone said he and Blyth were discussing whether the permit process could be improved through legislation.
“I only thought the impact was to go through the town,” he said. “Any other implications were not stated.”