05/28/08 — City aims to resolve Paramount legal issue

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City aims to resolve Paramount legal issue

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on May 28, 2008 1:46 PM

Told after the fact that they did not follow the proper procedures for the reconstruction of the Paramount Theatre, Goldsboro city officials are now hoping for a bailout by the state General Assembly.

The local bill, which has already been introduced in the House, would retroactively give the city permission to not follow the guidelines for public construction projects when it transferred the theater to the Weil Foundation.

It is a bill City Manager Joe Huffman wasn't expecting to need. Local businessman David Weil stepped up and offered his assistance in rebuilding the Center Street theater that burned more than three years ago.

As part of that process, the city agreed to temporarily transfer ownership of the property to the Weil Foundation.

But since such a situation isn't something that cities normally face, Goldsboro officials went to the Local Government Commission, (LGC), an authority that oversees local government activity, before starting construction, to ensure that everything was lawful with their public/private partnership.

Huffman said LGC officials told him there would be no problems and to continue with

However, when city officials called the commission to check on a few things as they neared the end of construction several months ago, LGC officials told them a certain aspect of the arrangement wasn't entirely legal.

The Weil Foundation didn't put the project out for bid -- a process that the city must go through to let every interested contractor have a fair chance at working on a project.

"Normally, if the city were going to finance a project, we would have to seek competitive bids. In this case, we did not own the property at the time of construction. However, we have an agreement to take over responsibility for all of the assets and liabilities," Huffman said. "Mr. Weil, on behalf of the foundation, selected the contractor and moved forward with the project with the same understanding we had -- that there were no concerns."

But since construction of the theater was nearly complete, neither Weil or city officials could start the process over again.

At that point, LGC officials recommended the city ask its local legislators to introduce a local bill that would forgive the city's unlawful actions.

"We always try to do things to the line of the law, but this time, we thought we were fine. When we found out we weren't, we asked how to fix it," Huffman said.

Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, and Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, are sponsoring the bill that is currently in legislative session.

Pate said the bill is pretty routine.

"There are certain guidelines cities should go by. Because the city didn't, this is just to clarify what they did is OK," Pate said. "It's nothing eyebrow-raising or anything."

Huffman is optimistic.

"I anticipate that the bill will be passed in this legislative session," he said.

If the bill is approved, then the legislature will have validated the city's actions, despite its failure to comply with the requirements of the laws relating to public contracts when rebuilding a performing arts facility.

If the bill does not pass, Huffman said the city could do one of three things -- lease the building, pay for it without borrowing money or consider a bill again next year.

--Staff Writer Matthew Whittle contributed to this report.