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Barbecue festival controversy reignites

BY CORIANNE EGANcegan@paducahsun.com

The dispute over the Barbecue on the River festival, which seemingly was put to rest earlier this month, has reignited with allegations of a "significant lack of oversight and ethical leadership" by city officials.

A 60-page report put together by John Williams Jr., Roger Truitt and Lewis Carr was given to city officials Monday during a private meeting. It includes questions about the festival's misrepresentation of its 501(c)3 status, allegations of unethical behavior by Commissioner Carol Gault (who also serves on the festival board), and queries about just how much the city oversees the festival and how.

Gault strongly denied the allegations against her.

"The document makes several factually inaccurate and libelous accusations against me personally and my role as city commissioner," Gault said in a statement. "It is a direct assault on my character and integrity."

The document contains questions regarding Gault's involvement in the issues between the city and barbecue organizers. Gault serves on the barbecue board, which the report says has led to "challenging, if not conflicting, loyalties at various times." The report notes Gault voted on the 2009 municipal order - she abstained from the 2011 ordinance vote - and failed to notify the city that the festival was no longer considered a 501(c)3.

Williams and Truitt are members of the Paducah Symphony Orchestra board of directors. The orchestra and Barbecue on the River organizers have haggled over the festival's beer garden the past two months. The pair noted the report was not done in conjunction with PSO, but as city taxpayers.

The city's involvement in the negotiation process brought more questions to light, Williams said.

"All we did was connect the dots in one formal document," Williams said. "It is ultimately a summary of public information. As we pieced it together, it became a factual document. Our intent is to be constructive here. In my opinion, the city needs to get in front of the issues."

The report also alleged Mayor Gayle Kaler lacked knowledge of the city's financial involvement in the festival.

In 2009, a municipal order transferred control of the festival to Barbecue on the River Inc. and gave organizers $30,000 for start-up costs. Although $30,000 is allotted, the report shows the city gave Barbecue on the River Inc. a total of $49,955. The difference in dollar amounts is unexplained, Williams said.

The questions continue in regard to a 2011 ordinance, which was approved giving Barbecue on the River Inc. an additional $20,000 to help start a retail store. That ordinance required an audit to be submitted to the city. Earlier this year, the city was alerted that the audit had never been filed. The paperwork is now being compiled by Barbecue on the River Inc. to submit to the city.

The city also waived trade show business license fees and special event permits because Barbecue on the River Inc. was purportedly a 501(c)3. After it was brought to the city's attention that the group was not a 501(c)3 in February, the city asked festival organizers to pay the backdated fees. The festival has not ever been given a 501(c)3 status, although city documents and ordinances list it as such. Furthermore, the festival's 501(c)4 status was revoked in 2012 after misfiling with the IRS.

These issues show the city has not been overseeing the festival adequately, the document says.

"There's a lack of oversight and a pattern of misinformation," Truitt said. "Whether it's misunderstandings or some other reason, it's still a pattern that's been happening since 2009. There needs to be some responsibility taken for the city's largest event."

Pederson and Kaler confirmed that Monday's meeting with Williams, Truitt and Carr took place, and said the city is researching whether it has oversight duties on the festival or not. Commissioner Allan Rhodes also attended the meeting.

The city spent $142,000 in in-kind services to the festival in 2013. Kaler also noted at Tuesday's Paducah City Commission meeting that she would like to see a set of standards set out through the city for all festivals or events that require city in-kind services.

"We need something well-defined, that sets out our expectations that everyone can abide by," she said.

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