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Saga Continues: Boone Town Council to Discuss ‘Claims’ Against/By Watauga Arts Council in Closed Session

Watauga County Arts Council Executive Director Cherry Johnson and President Mike Wise pose in front of their new home. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

Aug. 21, 2012. This Thursday, Town of Boone staff and Boone Town Council members will discuss concerns regarding “the handling of claims by and against the Watauga Arts Council” in closed session of its Aug. 23 regularly scheduled meeting.  

Yesterday, Council Member Rennie Brantz said he wouldn’t know what the items discussed would entail until he went into closed session, and Town Manager Greg Young declined to comment to the High Country Press about exactly what those “claims” concerned – citing closed session confidentiality. 

Watauga County Arts Council Executive Director Cherry Johnson expressed dismay when mentioning that particular item, regarding her organization, on the closed session agenda.

“I am mystified,” Johnson said, adding that she didn’t have a clue as to what could or would be discussed – especially in light that for all intents and purposes its relationship as pertaining to the Jones House Community Center is over.  

After the Boone Town Council pushed the Watauga County Arts Council out of the Jones House with an effective date of July 1 so its Cultural Resources Board could take over management of the facility, the Boone Town Council offered Watauga County Arts Council a three-month contract extension for the organization to stay in the Jones House and continue its programming through the end of summer. The arts council turned down the extension and moved its offices to the Appalachian Enterprise Center in the middle of May.

Since then, the only interaction between the two entities, Johnson said, was when she invoiced the Town of Boone for roughly $2,000 for services during the first two weeks of May. This $2,000 has yet to be paid, and she sent another invoice in the past week. 

“Beyond that, there has been no interaction or communication between us and the Town of Boone,” Johnson said.

Because of how Johnson feels the arts council’s successful track record has been at the Jones House, she is befuddled as to what those “claims against” the Watauga County Arts Council could entail.

“We did everything we could to not only do our job well, but even better,” she said. “We did everything to follow their rules.”

Johnson said under her leadership, attendance at the Jones House grew from under 2,000 in the early 90s to “well over” 15,000 this summer.

“We did everything we could to treat that place with as much respect and attention while still understanding that it belonged to the town,” Johnson said. “We don’t have any qualms about anything we did.”

When the arts council moved out of the Jones House, Johnson said, that the organization took nothing that didn’t belong to them.

“We have not done anything to hurt the town as we are aware of,” Johnson said. “So, I can’t imagine what they got up their sleeves. It blows my mind. I’ve been mulling over it for two or three days.”

At a Cultural Resources Board Steering Committee on July 20, town staff and Boone Town Council members gathered to discuss topics for the newly-formed Cultural Resources Board to consider.

At that meeting, the Jones House under the Watauga County Arts Council’s leadership was discussed sparsely. The arts council wasn’t mentioned by name in the meeting nor was it the meeting’s main topic of discussion whatsoever.

Those present discussed some concerns with how the Jones House had been managed in the past. Though, the committee didn’t go into much detail, one point that was noted was that sometimes Watauga County Arts Council staff wasn’t always present during functions or when members of the public were visiting the Jones House.

At that meeting, those present include council members Mayor Pro-Tem Jamie Leigh and Rennie Brantz; staff members Town Manager Greg Young, Town Clerk Kim Brown, and Downtown Development Coordinator Pilar Fotta and Town Attorney Sam Furgiuele.

For past info about the relationship between the Watauga County Arts Council and Town of Boone, click here: https://www.hcpress.com/news/from-20-minute-babble-over-copier-in-the-jones-house-to-wac-finding-new-home-after-20-years.html