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BBQ fest mandates charitable giving level

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

This year's Barbecue on the River festival will feature new accountability aimed at regulating charitable giving.

Festival organizers and city officials met Wednesday to finalize a change in festival bylaws. The city announced afterward that the festival will mandate that each team and food vendor give a minimum of 20 percent of its net proceeds to the charity represented. In the past, each team received a recommendation to give 20 percent, but the process was done on the honor system.

"This is something we had talked about it before," festival founder Susie Coiner said.

"It's part of the process and part of the festival growing, and it will keep everyone on an even playing field."

The change will take place in the form of a profit/loss statement, which the festival will require from all teams. Coiner said the organizers will put the form in a packet that will be mailed soon to all barbecue teams. Last year, fundraising reports showed the teams donated $448,288 to charities.

The move was not in response to complaints, Coiner said, but a natural next step for the festival. Barbecue lovers spend their money at booths at Barbecue on the River without a clear idea of how much of that money is going to the charity. Now, those who spend money at booths will know a mandated 20 percent will return to the charity's hands.

Still, some booths may elect to give more. Regulator's BBQ member Will Gilbert said his booth cooks for the Fraternal Order of Police. Regulator's and the FOP have a contract in place: the FOP pays for meat and supplies, and the team gives back FOP's expenses, along with a $5,500 donation and an extra 20 percent. Last year, that translated to $6,396.

"Every year we report what we make," Gilbert said. "But you can look at the paperwork and see that some aren't giving as much as others. I think this is a step in the right direction to stop all of the allegations going forward. Quite frankly, all of this could hurt all of the teams down there and hurt our ability to make money for our charities."

Jeff Beal, head of Cookie's Grill and former grand champion, said he doesn't even handle his team's money. Instead, he hands the revenue over to his charity, Reidland Area Upwards, which gives him back an amount of its choosing. Some years, the charity receives more than 80 percent of Beal's revenue. Beal gave $16,773.41 to the charity last year.

"The reason I got into Barbecue on the River was to raise money for my charity," Beal said. "I have learned to barbecue and have gotten better, but I started this to give money back. I think any time there's money involved, there's going to be speculation. People see the lines and say, 'Man, you're making a killing,' but I am not. For us, (the mandatory 20 percent) isn't an issue."

Beal noted he hopes that putting a mandatory number doesn't cause some teams to reduce their contributions.

While the change addresses one of the points of contention between the city and festival organizers in the past few months, it does not relate to any of the allegations in a 60-page report given the city by John Williams Jr., Roger Truitt and Lewis Carr on Monday.

The report questions the festival's misrepresentation of its 501(c)3 status and alleges unethical behavior by Commissioner Carol Gault, who also serves on the festival board. It also was critical of the city's oversight of the festival. City officials said Tuesday they are looking into how much oversight, if any, the city is responsible to give to the festival.

Gault responded in a statement Tuesday denying the allegations against her, calling them libelous and false.

Coiner responded to the report Wednesday evening.

"All of these matters have been addressed at length," Coiner said. "We have met with the mayor, the city manager and made a presentation to the City Commission, and it is our understanding that the city is satisfied with the Barbecue on the River responses and happy with the job we do."

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

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