By Megann Horstead | For The Bugle
Although some officials view the Rialto Square Theatre as a jewel in downtown Joliet, the theatre will not receive preferential treatment when it comes to forming an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Joliet.
The Joliet City Council voted down a series of measures last week that would have allowed the city’s inspector general to perform an investigation of the Rialto’s finances in exchange for the release of funds associated with an annual subsidy paid by the city to the theater.
Officials voted 5-3 against approving the intergovernmental agreement as is, thus paving the way for another action item that addressed whether the city would hire an accounting firm to conduct a review of the theatre’s finances. A motion to approve the agreement with changes also failed in a 5-3 vote.
Now, the future of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, which owns and operates the theater, remains uncertain.
Without support and intervention, city officials said the Rialto could be forced to close its doors due to years of mismanagement.
The city allotted $600,000 to the Rialto in the form of an annual subsidy, which is typically released on a quarterly basis. To date, the city has forwarded $160,000 to the Joliet theatre. Last month, city officials were approached by the Rialto and asked to cover payments for two upcoming fall shows, which are expected to cost approximately $200,000.
As part of the intergovernmental agreement, officials were looking for an agreed upon auditor to be put in place during the city inspector general’s investigation of the Rialto’s finances. Some members of the city council expressed concerns about approving the agreement based on accountability, transparency and liability issues.
Councilwoman Jan Quillman said she was upset that hardly anyone from the Rialto Board was present for the city council meeting.
“I’m just disappointed because this is it,” she said of the attendance at last week’s city council meeting. “This is it and no one’s here, except for these folks here.”
The finance committee for the WCMEAA Board also met April 5, where it laid out a copy of its draft audit detailing the financial position of the Joliet theatre.
After reviewing the information issued by the Rialto, councilman John Gerl said he thinks city action is needed to help the Rialto move forward. He questioned the lengths to which city officials seemed willing to go to address the matter.
“Isn’t this still putting pressure on them,” he said of the terms of an amended agreement.
Gerl added that the council is acting as if the Rialto has done something grossly negligent.
Mayor Bob O’DeKirk said he recognized that his colleagues have concerns, adding that he agrees with some of them.
“If we don’t act on this … I think it’s a fair assumption they’re going to close their doors,” he said. “They need our help; we’re not in a position to give it with what we what know.”
O’DeKirk said he supports the idea of forming an intergovernmental agreement with the Rialto but added that he’s certain the council won’t approve of the matter until answers to its questions are provided.
Councilwoman Bettye Gavin was one of several city officials questioning whether the city should step in financially, given the current state of the Rialto.
“I think with a large part of the investment that the city does and with public funds, we have to protect our residents as well,” she said. “I just can’t understand, maybe it’s just me… If you’re needing these funds and you’re coming to request them and you’re not being as transparent and accountable as possible, it shows to me that you don’t really need them.”
She added that she’s not in agreement with giving the Rialto anything until they’ve shown they’re willing to fully cooperate with the investigation.
Councilman Jim McFarland voted against the effort to help the Rialto. He said the city cannot afford to pursue the intergovernmental agreement, citing a number of “unknowns” with the Rialto’s finances.
“I think at this time it’s a waste of time to hire professional accounting services,” McFarland said. He added that it would make more sense to bring on board a business consultant who could provide some oversight.
O’DeKirk said it’s important to note the city’s effort to resolve the matter, while keeping the cost in mind throughout the process.