Local arts council sues town over failed grant

by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:


A local arts council is suing the town of Wadesboro over claims town officials failed to secure a $200,000 grant.

The Anson County Arts Council, which operates the Ansonia Theatre, filed the suit in court in late November.

In the lawsuit, the ACAC alleges the town agreed to help them secure a $200,000 grant from HUD United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2004 to pay for renovations at the historic theater.

As part of the grant application, former town manager John Witherspoon agreed to submit quarterly finance reports to HUD, and fill out any necessary paperwork by the deadline of September 30,2011, according to the lawsuit.

ACAC officials maintain they completed their part of grant work, including raising nearly $1 million in matching funds.

The ACAC also took out a $200,000 loan from a Wadesboro bank to pay for the renovations, with plans to pay the loan in full when the grant money from HUD was received, according to the lawyer who filed the suit.

But the ACAC alleged that from the start, town officials made mistakes with the grant, including mismanaging billing during the construction process.

The suit alleged the town paid some vendors so late, one threatened to take out a lien against the theater.

The ACAC alleged town officials did not submit the quarterly reports to HUD, as necessary, for a period of nearly eight years. Nor did the town manager file the paperwork necessary to release the grant funds to the ACAC, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said HUD officials twice sent warning letters to town officials, in January 2011 and July 2011, telling them time was running out on the grant and necessary paperwork needed to be filed or else "the funds for the Grant ... would be cancelled."

However, the lawsuit said town officials failed to respond to HUD's letters, and did not communicate the issues to ACAC.

ACAC officials said from March 2011 to September 2011, they reached out to town officials repeatedly about the status of the grant funds, and were told repeatedly that the process was moving forward, according to the suit.

ACAC officials said they did not receive word that the grant had been cancelled until January 2012, when Rep. Larry Kissell's office told them that HUD officials said they had never received any paperwork from town officials and had not had any sort of interaction with town officials in several years, according to the suit.

ACAC is now seeking the $200,000 from the town, alleging it may have to default on the bank loan when it reaches maturity in February 2013, which would put the theater in danger of foreclosure.

Residents told Eyewitness News they were disappointed by the allegations against the town manager and other officials laid out in the lawsuit.

"They should do their job, that's what we're paying them for. Taxes and everything." said resident Nina Gaddy.

The current interim town manager refused to comment on the lawsuit, and Mayor Bill Thacker also did not want to answer questions.