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Festival, symphony leaders harmonize

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

After two weeks of bitter back and forth over the rights to manage the Barbecue on the River Festival's beer garden, Paducah Symphony Orchestra and festival organizers left a 90-minute meeting singing a more peaceful tune Tuesday.

The two sides came to a resolution that would allow Barbecue on the River Inc. to draft a contract for the operation of the beer garden at this year's event, and would also allow the PSO first refusal on that contract. Tuesday's meeting was closed to the public, and both the PSO and festival board refused any additional comment on the matter. The city's information officer put out a drafted news release Tuesday afternoon, which mentioned there would be no public comments and that the release was the "final word" on the dispute.

Barbecue organizers abruptly ended a long-standing relationship with the PSO, which has run the beer garden more than 15 years, on Jan. 24 with a four-sentence letter. Festival organizers, including City Commissioner Carol Gault, said the move was a business decision. The year-to-year contract with the symphony stipulates the symphony will pay $1,000 to run the garden, then turn over 10 percent of net profits from sales to the festival.

The PSO sent a payment that was lower than usual to the festival in November, citing that there were more expenses than usual and deductions were necessary. Barbecue on the River Inc. said that move was a breach of contract, but waited three months to address the matter, and did not explain the contract termination in the letter.

"Our organization could have reacted better after receiving PSO's payment for its participation in the 2013 festival," festival founder and board member Susie Coiner said. "It is our policy to never publicly criticize a charity or an organization with which we do business."

The festival brings in anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 a year for the symphony. Officials with the symphony they would have to cut programs if the beer garden fundraiser were taken away. After what they say was weeks without communication, symphony board members went to City Commission members to ask them to arrange a meeting.

Mayor Gayle Kaler set up the Tuesday meeting, and although she said it was not a city issue, she facilitated conversation and stayed for the entire 90 minutes.

Kaler did note at Tuesday night's meeting of the Paducah City Commission that she requested the Barbecue on the River, Inc. members submit to the city a limited scope audit, which was required of them after a 2011 agreement that gave the group $20,000 to start their downtown retail shop. The 2011 audit was never received, but both parties were unaware of the issue until last week. Kaler said she expects the group to take up to two weeks to give the city that information.

Before the meeting, both sides took to the media to plead their cases. The news release Tuesday included an apology from symphony board president Roger Truitt.

"In the heat of the moment, with a microphone or a reporter's pad in front of our organization, and to our members, we used inappropriate words that shouldn't have been used in a dispute between two well-respected and professionally-run local organizations," Truitt said. "For that, PSO acknowledges the Barbecue On the River organization and its hard-working board members. It is our desire for both parties to work together professionally as partners. We're committed to that."

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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