Pawhuska city councilors decided last week they would like to have a direct conversation with members of the Constantine Theater’s board, to get answers regarding claims of deficient management. The councilors said they wanted a face-to-face meeting.

As of Tuesday morning this week, the date and time set for the meeting was 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18 in the council chambers at City Hall.

There had been an agenda item on the City Council’s Dec. 10 agenda that called for “discussion and possible action to remove and/or appoint a member or members of the Board of Directors of the Constantine Arts Council Trust Authority pursuant to the Trust Indenture.”

Members of the City Council had also received a memorandum from City Attorney John Heskett, briefing them in regard to a review of the minutes of the Constantine board for “the past few years,” as well as a review of other provided documents. Heskett’s memo cites instances in which the requirement that Constantine board members must be approved by the City Council was apparently not followed.

The memo also cites seven Constantine board meetings in the period from 2017-19 when a quorum of board members was not present and votes were taken. The Constantine board is not allowed to transact business without a quorum present. Heskett also mentioned that the Constantine board may have failed to comply with a records request made by lawyer Jesse Worten III.

Worten told the City Council the evening of Dec. 10 that he made an open records request of the Constantine in early October 2018 and sent a followup letter in March 2019 and has received no response.

“It’s my opinion that they haven’t been following the law regarding the quorum for I don’t know how long,” Worten said. He offered the opinion that Garrett Hartness, who chairs the Constantine board, should be removed and the size of the board should be reduced to “some manageable number.”

Worten said he felt compelled to seek some redress on behalf of clients he represents. He described Hartness as becoming “harder and harder to deal with.”

Hartness, in an interview last Thursday with the Journal-Capital, acknowledged having received written communications from Worten and said his method of responding has been to go through city government to address issues that have been raised. He said his method of responding has been consistent, and has not changed over time. He described Worten’s list of requests as long and involved, and giving the appearance of an information fishing expedition.

Hartness talked about and produced copies of the reports of two audits that have been done on the Constantine’s financial records for 2017 and 2018.

The Journal-Capital was able to examine the audit reports, which reflect the work of the CBEW Professional Group, an accounting firm with offices in Cushing, Stillwater and Pawnee. CBEW signed off on the 2017 and 2018 audits of the Constantine in August of this year. The audit reports the newspaper examined did not include any findings of financial deficiencies, and Hartness said the audits were clean.

Hartness said city government paid for the audits, and he said the Constantine board is diligent about keeping up insurance payments on the property. He said that he welcomes an opportunity to meet with city councilors to answer questions and clear up misunderstandings.

“We want to go to the city and let the city ask us all the questions they want to ask,” Hartness said. “We have nothing to hide. We will go to the city and we will answer their questions.”

The CBEW audit reports reflect that the accounting firm had no disagreements with Constantine Theater management, and Hartness said an effort had been made to provide auditors with anything they needed.