E-Verify law can't close curtain on Rec Players

Jul. 12, 2014 @ 09:12 PM

Thursday was the opening night for the Rec Players show “Oliver!” at E.M. Rollins.

But just a few months ago, the 41-year-old theater group faced the possibility of canceling the summer show. The problem had to do with a federal program enacted recently by the North Carolina legislature.

The federal program — called E-Verify — is an Internet-based system that confirms an employee’s eligibility by comparing government records with information provided to employers.

A state law passed in 2013 requires county and municipal contracts comply with E-Verify.

As an entity of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, Rec Players was affected by the new law.

The group needed to obtain a signed affidavit from Tams-Witmark and Music Theater International, music licensing companies that sell the rights to produce certain shows.

“Really, what is required is not that big a deal,” said Mark Hopper, who helps direct the Rec Players’ shows.

He said companies had to execute an affidavit stating they either have no more than 25 employees in the state of North Carolina — or, if they have over 25 employees, that they are all U.S. citizens or documented immigrants.

But the companies, based in New York, did not want to comply with another state’s law.

“Basically all of them said, ‘We are not subject to North Carolina law, so we’re not doing it.’ They were not budging at all,” he said. “Since all of our finances are done through the city, we are subject to all the city regulations. Even money we have raised and is designated for the Rec Players is still under all the rules and guidelines for city finance. So, the city couldn’t enter into the contract to legally present the show.”

At that point, the Rec Players’ future was uncertain.

“There was maybe a month and a half where we were really worried,” Hopper said.

Jonathon O’Geary, a longtime Rec Players member who started performing in 1975, said the group hit a roadblock when the companies refused to sign.

“When that happened, it meant we wouldn’t have summer theater because there would be no scripts,” he said.

Luckily, O’Geary and Hopper found a way around the roadblock.

The Embassy Cultural Center Foundation, a private entity, decided to open an account with the music licensing companies. As a private foundation, the cultural center is not subject to the E-Verify law.

But they still needed money to purchase the scripts and music licensing.

In just two days, O’Geary raised about $3,200 from 13 donors.

“I asked Mark how much we needed, and he told me and I said I would raise it,” he said. “I just called businesses, and I didn’t have anyone tell me no.”

Hopper said they wouldn’t have to raise money every year.

He said they realized the city could legally refund the cultural center for the cost of scripts and music.

“Now, we have actually found a way for the city to reimburse the embassy,” he said. “But for the first show, we didn’t have anything in place to make that work so we had to raise the money ourselves.”

O’Geary, the son of Henderson Mayor Pete O’Geary, said he first got involved with the Rec Players when he was in fifth grade. The show that year was “Oliver!”

“I was worried that we would take a year off and regroup and then never come back,” he said. “That was my fear — that everybody would kind of let it go.”

But the community did not let the Rec Players go quietly into the night. In fact, the support was overwhelming.

“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have a program,” he said.


Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.