Get your hands off our festival

04/29/2010 12:00 AM |

Following my Equal Time piece in the April 15 News-Review, I was invited to a meeting with the president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, Bob Lanieri, as well as Ray Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District, to discuss the possibility of a jointly submitted special event permit for the 2010 Riverhead Blues and Music Festival.

Various aspects of funding and potential benefits were presented, and I left the meeting optimistic about the prospects for an agreement in the spirit of group and community cooperation.

Within minutes after the meeting’s end, I received a copy of the Chamber’s competing application, submitted a day after the Vail’s. It was substantially copied directly from the Vail’s 2009 application, including verbatim descriptions as well as prospective commitment of Vail-Leavitt resources and assets about which I and my organization had never been consulted. I considered the inherent plagiarism and unlawful promise of our resources as a serious breach of trust, and sufficient for me to discontinue further discussions with the other groups in the best interest of Vail-Leavitt Music Hall.

Over the past week, a number of comments have been made by those displeased with my choice, comments that disrespect my leadership, background and business knowledge. Threats of an “unhappy outcome” to the Town Board’s vote on the Vail’s application were followed by remarks by both BID and Chamber presidents dismissing my concerns as irrelevant and immaterial. Despite full and legal financial disclosures of the Vail available online, Mr. Pickersgill continues to make irrational demands for still further details … undoubtedly to learn how to run a festival from our successful model. The BID and Chamber representatives’ incessant drone about “making the festival better” rings hollow, as they have accomplished nothing but to further selfish interests to the detriment of the Vail and the community we serve.

Beyond my unpaid volunteer work at the Vail and avocational banjo playing, I teach accounting and business subjects at Suffolk Community College’s eastern campus, where I am proudly completing my 25th year of service. This week, I would like to share with the community (and my detractors) a few brief concepts from my lesson plans, which are relevant in the current matter of the festival. The topic is intangibles — rights, privileges and competitive advantages resulting from non-physical assets.

First, a trademark is a phrase that identifies and associates with a particular enterprise, enhancing the sale of that product or service. It may be registered in common-law form through repeated and successful use, or formally through the U.S. Patent Office. The Vail-Leavitt holds exclusive legal trademark rights to the Riverhead Blues and Music Festival as a charitable fundraising event. In brief, the Festival is owned by the Vail, which is solely responsible for determining what is best, despite the intentions or desires of outsiders.

Another type of intangible asset is goodwill. Hard to measure monetarily, it consists of favorable attributes related to a company. Regarding the Chamber, BID and Vail-Leavitt, it could be considered the inherent value that each adds to our community. Goodwill is built through persistence over time. What distinguishes the Vail in this case is our charitable works. As stated in my last piece, many charities have been supported over the last eight years of the Vail’s continuing generosity, creating our goodwill. The Chamber and BID each represent business interests, with their associated economic benefits to the community.

The last intangible concept of this lesson is ethics: what is morally correct. I usually tell my classes this topic reminds me of my Grandma. Remember the Golden Rule? Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honesty is the best policy. Trust is both fragile and priceless. Do the right thing and do your best. Respect others and yourself.

Don’t steal or covet thy neighbor’s festival.

There is no quiz, but there will be a test of a different intangible — our involvement as a community. The irreconcilable differences of competing applications must be resolved by our Town Board at their May 4 meeting for the Vail-Leavitt to properly produce the festival this July. I encourage you to support us with your presence at that meeting, via our website at, and by joining our e-mail and Facebook contacts.

Robert Barta is the president of the council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, an assistant professor of accounting and business at Suffolk County Community College and a jazz banjoist and educator.