Maggie sues Meadows for concert expenses
MAGGIE VALLEY — A lawsuit filed by the town against former Maggie Valley resident and business owner Charlie Meadows was done so without a formal vote by the governing board.
The board directed Town Attorney Chuck Dickson to file a lawsuit against former resident and business owner Charlie Meadows during a Feb. 26 closed session. Meadows owes the town about $11,000 — the amount the town fronted for the Matt Stillwell concert held at the festival grounds last August.
While elected officials are allowed to discuss potential litigation in closed session with a lawyer, Amanda Martin, general counsel for the North Carolina Press Association, said the board is supposed to follow the Open Meetings Act by coming back into a public meeting to vote on the matter.
Martin said the lawsuit could theoretically be dismissed in court because it wasn’t properly authorized.
Mayor Ron DeSimone said no motions were made to sue Meadows. He said Dickson made recommendations in the closed session and the board members agreed or disagreed with those recommendations.
Dickson said he didn’t think the board had to take official action on the issue and cited a portion of an open meetings law exemption: “The public body may consider and give instructions to an attorney concerning the handling or settlement of a claim, judicial action, mediation, arbitration, or administrative procedure.”
However, Martin said that excerpt of the law didn’t give the board the freedom to do whatever they want behind closed doors.
“Though there is language about giving instructions, I think that is a far cry from permitted votes in closed session to initiate litigation,” she said. “… Although they may discuss nuanced issues of how to negotiate a settlement in closed session, I think the vote to actually pull the trigger and file a lawsuit must be in open session.”
Dickson also said the issue was done in closed session because the board knew Meadows would be in town on a particular day and they didn’t want to alert him to the fact he was going to be served with the lawsuit.
“Furthermore, in terms of if there is, and I don’t think there is, but if there is a violation of the Open Meeting Act, I do not think there is any harm,” Dickson said. “Really I can’t think of any, certainly not in the town of Maggie Valley as we are seeking to collect a debt.”
As the town attorney for more than 30 years, Dickson said it is his job to know the open meeting laws — a job he takes very seriously. He said he is often consulted before the meetings about what can and can't be discussed in closed session. During closed sessions he said he sometimes has to keep the board members on track to ensure they don't discuss issues that need to be done in public.
"The Mayors and Boards of Maggie Valley are hardworking people who care about their community. They serve long hours for very little pay," he said. "I believe that they do their best to represent the members of the community as well as the best interests of the town."
There is a monetary penalty for government boards that violate the Open Meetings Act, but someone would have to file a complaint against the town first. Martin said the board could rectify the problem by voting on the issue in a public meeting.
“The problem with open meetings law is that it depends upon the public for enforcement,” Martin said. “So nothing will happen if no one challenges the meeting.”
As manager of Lucky Jake’s Nightclub, Meadows was the promoter of the Matt Stillwell concert held last August. He signed a contract with the town and former festival grounds director Audrey Hager to rent the festival grounds for the event. The contract stipulated that the town would cover the costs upfront and Meadows would pay whatever wasn’t recouped through ticket and alcohol sales.
The event didn’t make the revenue expected — partly because of heavy rainfall — and Meadows was sent a bill for $10,781. Meadows stood before the board on several occasions and said he would gladly pay the difference because all he wanted to do was bring more tourism to Maggie. But now he is disputing some of the charges and hasn’t made any payments on the bill.
Until a month ago, Meadows managed several businesses in Maggie Valley, including Charlie’s Wing House, Lucky Jake’s and Sweet Briar Hotel. Charlie’s closed in December and then Lucky Jake’s followed soon after. Both properties are now for sale.
On Jan. 29, the day after Meadows vacated Lucky Jake’s, Sweet Briar caught on fire. Meadows said he has since moved back to Florida. He was served with the lawsuit March 5 when he appeared in Haywood County District Court for an Alcohol Beverage Control violation.