April 30th, 2007 01:31 EST
West Virginia Public Theatre Says Missing 400K Is A Misunderstanding
Four years ago, the average Broadway enthusiast would have been delighted to hear that the West Virginia Public Theatre was going to start construction of a $14 million dollar theater to accompany the Monongahela River Center. Before 1989, most patrons were used to seeing productions from a small hotel parking lot!
It has been four years to the day, and still no construction and still no $14 million theater. The city of Morgantown did its job by agreeing to fund the project with a $500,000 grant beginning in 2003. In absence of even a groundbreaking, officials at a January 2007 city council meeting demanded answers.
The WVPT founder and executive director, Ron Iannone, was not even there! In fact, Iannone`s daughter and highly qualified secretary, " Mary Beth Sickles, was harder to hunt down than her father. To worsen matters, Rodney Pyles, a WVPT board member, could not confirm or deny the placement of the money.
I missed the last quarterly board meeting and they haven`t sent anything out to us regarding changes in city payments. I thought the money was being put into an expense fund, but I`m not absolutely sure. I could be wrong, " Pyles told the Dominion Post in a recent interview.
Mr. Pyles, this is a very large sum of $400,000, and counting, issued by the city to fund a construction project greatly past due, and you could be wrong? "
When Mr. Iannone was finally tracked down, he called the missing $400,000 grant a misunderstanding. " He did not explain how it was misunderstood and neither did his daughter/publicist.
A top secret meeting was called to discuss the explanation of the missing funds, but it was then canceled.. This was an obvious PR ploy from the WVPT and probably designed by Mary Beth Sickles to improve their temporarily shattered reputation.
Once the city pounded its fists, the WVPT restored the missing funds, a person who wishes to remain anonymous " came forward and advised that an escrow account had been created.
In a recent Dominion Post letter to the editor, the president of WVPT, Tom Rogers, said that it may have been ill-advised to borrow funds from the future construction fund account. "
In response, possibly to enhance their reputation, the city set new rules regarding the city funding process. Grant approval letters, formal contracts and a better explanation (and hopefully, understanding) of the purpose of the grant were created.
This organization, WVPT, is already exempt from paying taxes and now it may be excused from paying back city funds? Not one single board member of this nonprofit organization will answer specific questions regarding the separate accounts for the public funds. I want to know why the WVPT executive director hasn`t been investigated for nepotism, seeing that his daughter is also his secretary. Or is the city council aloof on that one as well?
This same city council needs to be more active and aggressive on this issue. Heck, calling it an issue " is an understatement, it is more of a mess. It seems as if the mayor and his officials would rather go their separate ways than deal with these mum funds. If it were not for the Dominion Post doing its job, then the community would have absolutely no idea about what is going on with the politics of their city.
Citizens of this community should be outraged at both their representatives and at the WVPT. There is no reason why funds of this amount of money should go missing. The new procedures for grants issued by the council should have already been set in stone. The city fell behind the times and it almost cost them.
The government takes most of the blame when funds like these go missing because they lack the formal procedures to handle a project such as this one. It should not take the city setting new rules for grants " to make the local headlines, rather these procedures should already be set in stone. It should have been business as usual, but it was not.
According to the WVPT`s website, they are one of West Virginia`s best kept secrets. " I happen to agree, you are a secret " alright.