The Flat Rock Playhouse tax survived to fight — and be fought over — another day.
Two county commissioners exchanged hostile fire over one another's personal integrity, another said the Playhouse tax was the hottest issue he had seen in 12 years on the board and Playhouse director Vincent Marini lamented what he called misinformation and unwarranted personal attacks by the theater's critics.
Several dozen Playhouse supporters, several innkeepers and others attended the Board of Commissioners meeting. After public comments and a board discussion that became personal and contentious, commissioners voted unanimously to set a public forum on the question for Aug. 8 at 1 p.m.
News stories have covered the proposed increase and the public has reacted, said Chairman Tommy Thompson. "But we as a board have had very little input on a personal level other than emails and citizen comments on an individual basis," he said. "There's a lot of people that are definitely for this matter and a lot of people against this matter. I personally feel I do not have enough knowledge to make a decision that's best for Henderson County."
Commissioner Larry Young said the board ought not "kick the can down the road."
"I'm prepared to go into a big discussion," he said. "When I say bad business management, that's what I said. I can show you a lot of things in there that says it's bad business management, and one of them is raising salaries."
Young said Marini's salary had increased from $44,000 to $104,000. In fact the first number came from 2009, the year he was hired at Flat Rock, when he worked only four months.
Speakers made comments for and against the proposal.
Steve Carlisle, a former Playhouse actor who has turned into one of the most vociferous critics of the organization, delivered a scathing two-minute critique of the current operations and management. The Playhouse raised ticket prices and started a second theater during a recession, he said, and is considering starting a theater in North Myrtle Beach.
Playhouse director Vincent Marini said he would "not honor" Carlisle's remarks with a response because Carlisle had been spreading misinformation for three years. He said later that the North Myrtle Beach idea would involve performing shows there for money, which would increase revenue.
Commissioner Mike Edney defended the Playhouse.
As for the North Myrtle Beach proposal, "My understanding is that would be a money-making thing for the Playhouse," he said. "It has nothing to do with what we're talking about."
The board has supported industry and farming — two legs of the local economy — but it needs to look at the tourism and retirement.
"We don't need to be attacking the Playhouse and nitpicking their (IRS form) 990 when we don't do that to all the other non-profits we give money to," he said, calling Young's accusations "improper."
Edney made a comment about problems at the old Osborne Oldsmobile dealership, where Young used to work. Young fired back at Edney that he should talk instead about losing his law license.
Charlie Messer expressed concern about the tax, and said he came into the meeting ready to oppose the tax.
"This is probably the hottest issue I've had to deal with for the last 12 years," he said.
Thompson said he wanted to hold the forum giving "the Playhouse and its management, its tax people, chairman of the board" an opportunity to answer questions and explain their plans. "And let's hash all this out and let's air all this information." He said he was "not willing to say yea or nay on changing the occupancy tax at this time."
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