Theatre Co. fires Barrus

January 8, 2014


Board members of the fledgling Granbury Theatre Company (GTC) – grappling to restore order in the midst of financial chaos that has included bank overdraft fees of more than $3,700 – on Monday terminated Andrew Barrus as the nonprofit’s executive director. He also was removed from the board.

The action came at the end of a day-long board meeting – and two months after Barrus allegedly agreed to repay thousands of dollars “for the misuse of funds,” according to meeting minutes obtained by the Hood County News through Open Records.

“Although I disagree with the allegations, I believe in the organization and want to make sure that it goes forward in a positive light in Granbury,” Barrus told the HCN.

The theatre company’s financial disarray is tied to an out-of-town bank account in which GTC funds were allegedly co-mingled with Barrus’ personal funds. The nonprofit is funded through ticket sales, loans and donations.

Barrus provided an explanation to the HCN about the Wells Fargo account, but not for publication. He cited concern for the organization’s well-being.

At around 5 p.m. Monday, board President Kent Whites provided this prepared statement about Barrus’ termination:

“After a great deal of thought and deliberation, the Granbury Theatre Company has made the decision to terminate Andrew Barrus as executive director and as a member of the board of directors. We feel this decision is in the best interest of the community and the theatre company.”

Whites said it is “unknown” whether Barrus will honor the verbal agreement that is reflected in the Nov. 4, 2013 board meeting minutes to repay to GTC $11,418.86.

The minutes state that Barrus “took personal responsibility for the misuse of funds and agreed to make (restitution).”

However, Barrus told the HCN: “I have not agreed to that.”

Expenditures that presumably were not related to the theatre company totaled more than $33,000, but were “offset by contributions to the company account by Andrew in the amount of $21,200, plus $400, which is a telephone allowance of $100 per month beginning in September 2013,” the minutes state.

A review of meeting minutes for the two-year-old nonprofit that Barrus was instrumental in creating indicate efforts by the board to obtain financial information from Barrus, to ensure that the Wells Fargo account was closed and to implement strict procedures for financial oversight.

According to meeting minutes, the Wells Fargo account went to a third-party debt collector. As far back as November 2012, the payee on a $4,200 returned check was threatening to go to the district attorney.

Whites said that the board has not yet discussed whether to go to the district attorney if Barrus does not repay the money as reflected in the November 2013 minutes.

checks and balances

The disarray of the theatre company’s finances caused Certified Public Accountant Joe Phillips to send a letter raising red flags to board Treasurer Sara Baker, who joined the board last summer. She and her husband, Tom, have operated the concessions stand and have provided other types of assistance in support of the theatre company.

The letter states that “several transactions caused question(s) and these are transactions you might wish to look into.”

Phillips then listed 15 bulleted items that included “many payments to” (a Major League Baseball website); ATM withdrawals for more than $2,500; $7,700 paid to restaurants and fast food establishments, mostly in Granbury; $17,000 in miscellaneous transactions; and more than $3,700 in bank overdraft fees at $35 per incident.

Phillips stated in the letter that the overdraft fees appear “extreme when a company reconciles its bank account regularly. Worse is the observation that some checks were bounced multiple times resulting in multiple penalties for the same check.”

Comments about Barrus’ alleged failure or slowness in providing detailed financial reports have been made in prior meetings of the Granbury City Council.

The city gave the GTC $65,000 to help with 10 months of rent for the Granbury Live building, where the theatre company was putting on shows during the long-delayed renovation of the Opera House.

The rent for that building was much higher than what the theatre company would pay to the city for the Opera House once the historic theater was reopened. It reopened in early December.

From December 2011 through November 2013, the city paid Barrus $3,600 per month in consultation fees on the Opera House. His consulting work for the city was not connected to the Granbury Theatre Company.

“He worked hard at designing the Opera House,” City Manager Wayne McKethan stated, adding that Barrus has great “artistic talent.”

As for the money paid to the theater company to help keep it afloat during the Opera House renovation, McKethan said: “We agreed to fund money for a purpose, but they (the theatre company board) have to have internal controls in place to make sure that money is spent properly.”

Meeting minutes indicate that the board was trying to do just that, but was having the same problems as the city in getting the financial information.

tangled finances

Stapled with the Nov. 4, 2013 meeting minutes and Phillips’ letter was a single-spaced listing almost three pages long titled “Granbury Theatre Company Account QuickReport.” Only a few expenditures involved the account that the board had opened at First National Bank. The rest were listed with the Wells Fargo account.

There were numerous restaurant charges, but nothing on the financial ledger to indicate whether the charges were legitimately connected to GTC business.

A document in the packet titled “Sheet 1” gave a listing of $7,699.80 spent on meals, $2,542.30 in ATM withdrawals and $2,084.82 for “kids cells,” apparently cell phone payments.

That document also shows deposits made by Barrus totalling $21,200.

righting the ship

In the minutes for the May 24, 2013 meeting, it is stated that Whites spoke about the need to legitimize practices for the theater company.

“He discussed that the financials were requested 5/24/13 and that they were slow to come,” the minutes state. “When we finally got them, we found the Wells Fargo Account still open and active. The account was found to have personal deposits from Andrew as well as personal checks written off of it.”

A number of actions were then unanimously approved by the board, including closing the Wells Fargo account, requiring that Barrus immediately hand over the outstanding debit card for that account and using a flash drive to obtain all information on Barrus’ computer related to “music, royalties, etc.” In addition, GTC mail would be sent to a post office box.

The board opened an account for the nonprofit at First National Bank in Granbury, and made Whites and vice president Scott Young signatories on the account. Baker is now overseeing box office close-outs.

Though Barrus said that he never agreed to repay money or that he misspent any funds, the Nov. 4, 2013 board meeting minutes reflect an itemized list of expenditures,and what he allegedly agreed to repay.

The listing includes: “Miscellaneous, $17,805.87; Direct TV, $853.80; Meals, $2,500; Airfare, $2,000; Phones, $8,359.19; and Bank Penalties, $1,500.” The total: $33,018.86.

Subtracting “contributions” made by Barrus totalling $21,200, the remaining balance is $11,418.86, according to the minutes.

“Andrew is to produce any additional receipts pertaining to purchases he made on behalf of the company when it was started or equipment such as computers which are company property,” the minutes state.

“Linda (Preston) proposed a 5% interest rate on this loan. Sara and Andrew will draw up a note when the final amount is arrived at.”

Whites said late Monday that the situation is “quite stunning, but the real point in this is we have no intention of not doing plays at the Opera House.”

He said that performances are expected to continue uninterrupted as the board seeks a replacement for Barrus.

Whites stated that Barrus was “very professional” about the parting of the ways and that he will be allowed adequate time to move out of the city-owned dormitory near the square.

“We wish him the best of luck,” the board president said. “He’s done a great job for the company, and we don’t want to negate that.”

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