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June 2012
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PRUDENT City takes right step on festival accountability

The City of Paducah took a good step last week when it and organizers of the Barbecue on the River festival changed event bylaws to set a floor for contributions and require income statements from vendors.

The festival is administered by a private non-profit committee that works closely with the city. There has been criticism from some quarters in the past about the varying degrees to which participants do or are perceived to give proceeds from the event to a charity, which is a requirement of participation.

Many of the amateur barbecuers give most or all of their take to designated charities. But the event also attracts numerous professional barbecue teams (yes, like bass fishing and dirt car racing, there is a professional circuit these days) whose charitable commitments are murkier.

Organizers this week changed the rules to make the "suggested" minimum contribution of 20 percent of net proceeds mandatory. Organizers also added a requirement that all participants provide a profit and loss statement after the event to document compliance.

The barbecue festival generated $448,288 for charities last year. One would anticipate the new requirements will push that number higher in 2014, which is good for all concerned.

The festival is embroiled in an unfortunate controversy, which flared again last week. Festival organizers got crosswise with officials of the Paducah Symphony Orchestra when the symphony's contract for the wine and beer garden concession was abruptly canceled. The concession provides up to $30,000 annually to underwrite the PSO's operations. Festival organizers alleged the PSO breached its contract, which led to some harsh accusations between the two entities. The tiff was believed settled when the city mediated an agreement between the two a few weeks ago.

But the dispute rekindled last week when PSO board members John Williams Jr. and Roger Truitt, along with investigator Lewis Carr, presented city officials with a scathing 60-page report criticizing city oversight of monetary aspects of the event and alleging conflicts of interest on the part of City Commissioner Carol Gault, who is a member of the festival LLC.

As we have said in the past, the barbecue festival is a wonderful event for Paducah that needs to be protected and cultivated. Simply put, this ain't helpin'. We commended the festival committee when it voluntarily made financial disclosures a couple of weeks ago, and fair or not, it may have to produce more information on such things as office rent and management fees (if any) to put out this fire.

But the matter does need to be put to rest, and quickly in our view.

Looking at the issue with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we think it was probably a mistake when several years ago the city spun control of the festival out of Paducah Main Street, a city-controlled 501 (c) (3) organization, to the newly formed festival LLC. We think it may be in the best interest of all if the city simply re-takes ownership of the festival, to which it provides $140,000 a year in in-kind services, and pays the festival committee a management fee for the year-round work that goes into organizing it.

Whatever the solution, we think it is important that the city act expeditiously. No good can come from allowing this disagreement to build any more steam.

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