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RIGHT MOVE Barbecue festival disclosures should allay public concerns

By Jim Paxton

We commend the organizers of Paducah's Barbecue on the River for releasing their financial information earlier this week. It was we think a necessary clearing of the air following a dispute between the festival organizers and one of its charitable beneficiaries.

The committee that oversees the festival is organized as a 501 (c) (4) non-profit. Monday the group released tax filings for the past several years. They show that the event operated at a modest loss in 2010 and 2011 before breaking even in 2012 and booking a surplus of $29,510 last year.

The finances of the organization had been called into question after the festival committee sent notice to the Paducah Symphony Orchestra that it was cancelling the orchestra's contract to operate the beer and wine garden at the festival. The festival organizers contended the PSO had breached its contract. That triggered an aggressive response from PSO officials, who noted the festival concession was its second-largest annual fundraiser, generating as much as $30,000 a year to underwrite the operating expenses of the orchestra.

The PSO sent a communication to its roughly 1,000 financial backers complaining about the cancellation and criticizing a lack of financial transparency by the festival committee. The PSO also informed backers that the festival committee's tax filings were delinquent and its charitable status is currently revoked because of that. The communiqué also questioned the relationship between the committee and a private business operated by a festival organizer.

The dispute prompted Mayor Gayle Kaler to call the parties together last week behind closed doors. An agreement between the two sides was hammered out during that meeting under which the festival would offer a contract with new terms for sharing proceeds from the beer and wine garden concession and the PSO would have right of first refusal on the new contract. The two sides were also persuaded not to make further public comments about the dispute, leaving news of the outcome of the meeting to be handled via a city press release that pronounced itself the "final word" on the tiff.

As we pointed out in an editorial last Sunday, that approach left a lot of questions hanging with the public. We suggested it would be in everyone's best interest if information about the finances of the festival were made public. The festival committee has done so and that is to its credit.

The dollars involved in Barbecue on River are substantial. The city contributes in-kind services valued at $142,000. The committee itself in 2013 received $138,000 from vendor fees and entry fees, offset by about $109,000 in expenses. And the charitable money raised by the event is estimated at $350,000 to $400,000 a year.

Barbecue on the River is a wonderful event for the city and for the charities that benefit. We think it is important if it is to continue to be successful and grow that there not be a cloud hanging over the finances of the event.

We believe the disclosures this week by the committee were a good, proactive step to head off any lingering public concerns about that issue.

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