JOLIET – Rialto Square Theatre officials on Wednesday expressed confidence in the future despite the theater’s financial troubles after approving an exit agreement with general manager Randy Green.
Green, general manager since 2000, will get three months of pay in a separation agreement Rialto officials said will cost about $35,000.
Also at the eventful meeting, longtime board member James Smith announced he will resign in June when he will mark his 20th anniversary on the Rialto board. The board also approved 3 percent pay hikes in a union contract with its four building engineers.
Rialto management has been swimming in a sea of trouble since late 2014 when a celebrated plan for a new marquee became an albatross costing the theater $170,000 even though the project was abandoned amid public opposition.
Financial problems mounted in recent months, and Green was put on paid leave on March 21 after the board learned details about unpaid payroll taxes totaling about $120,000.
This week, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said he believed the Rialto was close to shutting down as it became increasingly dependent on city funding to pay bills.
But at the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Rialto officials expressed confidence in the future.
Board Chairman Dan Vera said the opening for general manager will be posted as soon as possible.
“I hope in the near future we will be standing in front of the City Council with a new general manager,” Vera said. “I believe without a doubt, now that we’re going forward, our best days are ahead of us.”
Rialto attorney David Silverman, who negotiated the separation agreement with Green’s attorney, received a standing ovation from a packed room when he announced his firm was forgoing $11,000 in legal fees in a show of support for the Rialto.
“We do that to express confidence in the Rialto and to try to get people to join us to rebuild this organization,” Silverman said.
“Don’t be scared off by the negative publicity,” Silverman told a crowd that included several critics of Rialto management. “We’re going through some hard times. We’re going to get through this damned thing together.”
One thing the Rialto needs is money.
Silverman said Rialto management was talking with the Rialto Foundation, a fundraising arm of the theater, to see if funding could be arranged for the buyout of Green’s contract. City officials have said they do not want any of their funds being used to pay Green.
The Rialto needed the second quarterly installment of city funding to pay about $120,000 in late payroll taxes that went back to November. The city also has provided guarantees that it will cover payments to performers, including Pauly Shore and Jeff Foxworthy, at two shows later this week.
Meanwhile, the Rialto has stopped booking new shows and has $79,000 in cash available with $470,000 in bills to pay.
Silverman said Green would not accept a separation agreement without severance.
“We tried as hard as we could to get him to resign without any payment. He just wasn’t going there,” Silverman said.
He said if the Rialto opted to fire Green before his contract expired in December, the theater faced the likelihood of a lawsuit costing up to $40,000 with the risk that a judge could award Green eight months of pay to cover the remainder of his contract.
Green’s contract made early termination difficult, he said.
“What we see in a lot of these contracts, there is a provision of termination for just cause, and it outlines what just cause is,” Silverman said. “Unfortunately, in this contract it just wasn’t there.”
The board voted, 6-1, for the separation agreement with Mary Beth Gannon being the lone no vote.
Gannon also was the only board member to vote against the union contract.
The $1.25 wage increase brings hourly pay for the building engineers to $26.89, said board member Cynthia Tyler, who heads the board’s Insurance and Personnel committee.
Tyler said pay for Rialto building engineers is “well below grade” compared with what they could make elsewhere.
The board will have an opening in June when Smith leaves.
Smith was chairman of the Rialto board at the height of the marquee controversy and has at times been the target of criticism because of his longevity on the board.
He said after the meeting that he had considered leaving the board since giving up the chairman position nearly a year ago.
“I think any organization needs rotation,” Smith said. “I think they need new lifeblood.”