One of the Barbecue on the River Festival's longest-tenured teams is calling a barbecuers-only meeting to address issues with the festival.
Dale Perry, head of the Good Ole' Boys barbecue team, put out an all-call to fellow barbecue teams on Sunday morning, asking for a meeting at the Paducah Farmer's Market parking lot next week. This will be the second meeting of festival participants this month, and was called because Perry said he believes the teams should have representation on the Barbecue on the River, Inc. board of directors.
"We have no representation," Perry said. "We can't ask anything. We are told what's going to happen, told what we are going to do every year. We would like to know a little bit about what's going on. You can't put the festival on without 40 barbecuers, so it's important that we are informed."
The current Barbecue on the River board of directors is three people strong. Founder and organizer Susie Coiner, City Commissioner Carol Gault and bookkeeper Mike Karnes meet monthly. There are two annual meetings that festival organizers host for barbecue teams each year: one before the festival to set prices and address concerns, and one after the festival.
Questions on festival operations and financials surfaced this winter, after the festival broke off a 15-year contract with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra, which ran Barbecue on the River's Beer Garden. Symphony board members John Williams, Jr. and Roger Truitt - acting as Paducah residents - along with Lewis Carr, later released a 60-page report to the city questioning the city's oversight of the festival.
In the months since, festival organizers have worked to streamline financials, once again applying for a 501(c)4 designation. In March, organizers worked with the city to mandate a charitable giving level. The festival had run for 19 years on the honor system, with teams donating to charity as they see fit. Some of those teams were giving as little as five and 10 percent. Now, teams will have to give a minimum of 20 percent of their proceeds to the charity they represent.
"If you would have allowed the barbecuers to vote on a mandatory minimum for charitable donations, you have to believe we would have voted way higher than 20 percent," Perry said. "I don't want to run it, and we don't have an ax to grind here. We just want information. We don't have a say in anything. Zero say. We set prices when we order our meat, but that's the extent of it."
Coiner responded to the meeting announcement on Sunday afternoon and noted the board is considering many different kinds of representatives. Putting any member of a barbecue team on the board may create the appearance of impropriety, she said, but the board has considered opening seats up to get a wider influence. The board would even consider opening a spot to the organizers of other successful barbecue competitions around the country, she said.
"Barbecue on the River is always open to suggestions to improve the festival," Coiner said. "The Barbecue on the River board is considering a position on the board for the organization that raises the most money for its charity. Unfortunately, that will eliminate Mr. Perry from consideration."
The meeting is scheduled for next Monday, April 21, at 6 p.m. at Paducah's Farmer's Market parking lot. Coiner said the festival plans to hold a meeting and picnic in May to kick off the festival's 20th anniversary year.
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.
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