Following a long, vocal and emotionally charged discussion about the Opry House, the Delbarton Town Council, in a split 4-3 vote, allowed a private non-profit company the use of the facility every Saturday night for a Bluegrass music show.
Mayor Elmer Ray Spence began the discussion of the facility by saying the discussion would be restricted to only the physical repairs needed, which included a new heating and cooling system and renovations to the restrooms and kitchen.
“I think we just need to bite the bullet and get it done,” Councilman Albert Totten said. “I believe the town can make some good money with the Opry House if we fix it up.”
The council agreed and voted to advertise for bids on the needed work. The discussion then turned to the usage of the Opry House. As the direction of the meeting changed, Spence repeatedly said that the only item up for debate was repair work. However, the published agenda only listed the topic as “Community Center/Opry House” and did not define or restrict the scope of the item.
“For the last 20 years this has been the Opry House and everybody knows it. Nobody has opposed it. Nobody has ever said a word,” said Steven Cook, who spoke on behalf of the Delbarton Music Company, in response to a statement by the mayor that problems could arise if Saturday nights were exclusively reserved for the DMC. “It was built by the Delbarton Music Company.”
He listed several features of the building including the sound system, tables, chairs and concession equipment that was provided by the DMC.
“It’s a great thing, 20 years, I get that. But things change,” Spence said. “Things get old and things have to change with the times.”
Spence is a proponent of using the Opry House more for a community center for birthday parties, wedding receptions, and having activities for all age groups rather than just for entertainment.
“I’m not opposed to allowing (the DMC) to use it for your bluegrass shows, but not every weekend,” Spence said. “Maybe every other weekend or on some type of schedule. Then if nobody else wants it on a certain weekend, you can have then as well.”
Spence said the facility needed to be used by a variety of interests and not be monopolized by one group. He said that the town routinely spends between $7,000 to $8,000 per year on electricity, plus other costs associated with maintaining the building. The mayor added the town had not received any type of monetary compensation from the DMC for those expenses and asked to see financial records from the organization.
“Financial records?” Cook asked. “There’s no money to be made here. How much money do you think we could make from sales from a little old concession stand? All there is, is memories and happiness of all the people who come here and socialize every Saturday night.
“We ask the council — the council which is the governing body of this town – to make a motion to allow the Delbarton Music Company to use the Opry House for 52 Saturdays and will write you a check tonight for $5,200,” Cook continued.
That amount totaled the rental amount of $100 per day for a year.
I didn’t ask for a motion,” Spence countered. “That is not what this topic is about.”
The discussion of using the Opry House for bluegrass music every Saturday night lasted more than an hour with many people making emotional pleas on behalf of the DMC. At times, the discussion became heated. A large group turned out to support the weekly use of the Opry House for the bluegrass shows, with several having driven long distances for the meeting. However, Town Recorder Medina Mahon said only approximately 20 percent of attendees who registered on sign-in sheets for contact tracing prior to the meeting were Delbarton residents.
Councilman Ralph Maynard made the motion Cook requested allowing the DMC to reserve the building weekly for a year; his motion was met by cheers and applause from those in attendance.
The mayor objected and said he would not accept the motion as the presiding officer.
“You don’t have the right to refuse a motion,” Totten told the mayor. “My mother always told me a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
Local resident and Mingo County Court Clerk Lonnie Hannah told the mayor that if the town is struggling to pay the power bill on the facility, the “$5,200 windfall” from the DMC’s offer would pay most of that cost and renting the Opry House at other times could easily cover the remainder.
“The property here where the Opry House is was donated to the town and was for the purpose of a music park,” former Councilman Mark Sizemore told the council. “This was built with grants and donated funds and volunteer labor from the Delbarton Music Company. It didn’t cost the town anything. This building was built for the Delbarton Music Company.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Fouch said that she was in favor of having bluegrass shows at the Opry House. However, she added that she would like to see the town and DMC work together better. Fouch also said she would like to see more financial records for accounting purposes and for fiscal responsibility the town is charged to maintain.
Maynard once again made his motion with Totten offering the second. The mayor reluctantly called for the vote saying, “I vote no.”
Maynard, Totten, Fouch and Councilman Robert Hunt voted in favor of the motion. Objections came from Spence, Mahon and Councilwoman Rachel Chambers-Bowen.
Spence said repair work to the building, which he estimated to be between four to six weeks, would have to be completed before any group could use the Opry House.
Because the meeting had run so long, Totten requested that the discussion of the town’s RV Park be tabled until the next session.