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Barbecuers increase say in downtown festival

BY CORIANNE EGANcegan@paducahsun.com

Nearly 30 barbecue team members, gathered to discuss the Barbecue on the River Festival, formed a council before closing their meeting Monday evening to the media.

The meeting was called by Good Ole Boys head Dale Perry and moderated by Shane Parker, better known as radio personality Bear on the Air. Team members who had questions or concerns were told to wait until reporters had left to comment.

"The sole purpose here was to shut down the negativity," Parker said. "We want to put a positive spin on things, because the fact of the matter is that this comes down to the charities we raise money for."

The council will consist of representatives of barbecue teams, food vendors and non-food vendors. Parker said he spoke to barbecue organizer Susie Coiner, and she was amenable to adding one member of the new council to the three-member Barbecue on the River Inc. board of directors.

Before the meeting was closed, barbecuers expressed interest in electing one member of each team to the council. Some team members shouted over the crowd that they believed adding only one member to the board  was not enough to represent the 42 teams, plus food vendors and non-food vendors. Several barbecuers spoke up before the meeting was closed concerning discontent with the festival and its organizers, but Parker asked for all negative comments to be tabled until after the media had left. 

The meeting was called in the wake of months of controversy concerning the festival. The festival organizers broke ties with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra - which has run its beer garden as a $30,000-a-year fundraiser for more than 15 years - in January. Symphony heads clashed with the organizers over the move and released an email to supporters raising questions about the festival's charitable status and overall organization.

The two sides later came together in a meeting, but the symphony declined a new contract with the festival a month later. Symphony board members John Williams Jr. and Roger Truitt, along with investigator Lewis Carr, put together a 60-page report in March which questioned the city's involvement in the Barbecue on the River festival and the festival's organizers, and the dual capacities of Commissioner Carol Gault, who also serves on the Barbecue on the River board.

Coiner released the festival's financials soon afterward and said organizers working to regain the festival's 501(c)4 status, which was lost in 2012 due to improper filings.

Parker said barbecuers could sign up for the council during the meeting and the rest of the festival's food vendors and non-food vendors would be contacted in the coming weeks about potential council meetings.

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

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