Backroom deals smell rotten

Shakespeare wrote a famous line saying “Something’s rotten in Denmark.”

We don’t have to look that far because we may have something very rotten right here in Mayberry city government. I refer to the ongoing actions of the small but influential group trying to give Barter Theatre the keys to the city treasury.

Barter has been in Abingdon (Virginia) 85 years. If that’s such a huge draw why isn’t Abingdon the size of Asheville instead of remaining smaller than our town? That’s 85 years of evidence that Barter could never do for us anything like what it and the Barter supporters so loudly claim.

It’s OK that some are in favor of Barter even though more are not. What’s not OK is the way those in favor are going about it. It seems back room dealing and secrecy (even from other board members) is now standard practice. That’s certainly not the Mayberry way. If we want to preserve the Mayberry image we need to behave that way.

Most everyone would welcome Barter if they pay their own way, but that’s far from the case. The original deal gave Barter the moon and stars; but left city taxpayers paying up to $14 million and taking all the risk. The Local Government Commission (LGC) ruled it unacceptable and wouldn’t approve it. Even so our local Barter supporters keep trying to push this turkey.

Now certain board members seem to be engaged in a new scheme involving the hotel investors putting up the money for the theater. That’s fine except we hear it also requires that the city lease it from them ($1,000 per day was mentioned). Even worse, we hear the city would also have to buy the whole thing at some point in the future for a yet unknown price. This new idea is every bit as bad as the original one. From the past two meetings it also appears information on this new plan has been withheld from some commissioners as well as taxpayers.

Now what could possibly go wrong with a deal like that? The answer is everything could go wrong and likely would, because the Barter deal (original or the latest one) is totally one-sided with the city taking millions and millions in risk and Barter taking none.

Last week some of our commissioners passed (3-2) a reckless and outrageous 25 percent tax hike. We didn’t need it and they passed it in a back room in the basement of city hall. Apparently those three preferred not to vote in the regular meeting with an audience. Many suspect the huge tax hike is really to build up a slush fund to pay for the Barter when the time comes. Many also view the lease/purchase idea as nothing more than an attempt by some to get around the LGC’s ruling. Of course both accusations have been denied; but they sure look like strange coincidences.

John Pritchard

Mount Airy