Equal Time: Vail-Leavitt won’t submit to downtown bullies

A number of individuals publicly criticized the published financial disclosure of the 2010 Riverhead Blues & Music Festival™, specifically citing the significant amount classified as “Other Expenses.”  It was not the intent of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall to provide less than full disclosure; however my statement was made using exactly the format which was proposed by the town supervisor’s adviser, Anthony Coates, at the supervisor’s office. Although it was in no way legally required, I provided the statement to address the ongoing attempts by BID leaders Coates and Ray Pickersgill to sully the Vail’s credibility.  For those members of the public who may still harbor concerns, here is the breakdown of “Other Expenses” for the 2010 festival:

Stage managers & Vail audio tech     $ 1,200    Tent rentals    $ 2,700
Security services (2.5 days)    6,706    Port-a-lavs rental    2,400
Main area sound system    10,800    Hotel rooms    1,830
Wristbands    566    Scholarships    500
Hospitality (Food, Ice, Etc.)    1,472    Stage lights & Equip. rental    845
Radio communicators    594    Signage    323
Merchandising commissions    1,000


The point of making the fiscal disclosure and prior announcement was to inform the public of the rationale which led to our board’s decision not to apply for the Blues & Music Festival for 2011.  It is a plain and simple fact that additional fundraising is needed to support the Music Hall’s annual budget.  

This year the BID selected and announced a pair of dates for events in the riverfront parking area, one which was specifically proposed as a “replacement” event on the traditional festival weekend.  As the Vail-Leavitt’s board discussed these alleged plans, we realized both opportunities and threats existed.  The board began planning for in-house events which could “piggyback” on the BID’s, but it was clear from past history that we would do so in a hostile environment.

Last year, the BID openly sought to finance a proposed Chamber of Commerce takeover of the Blues & Music Festival. I refused to accept any direct funding from the BID for the festival because of my belief that the BID was demanding too central a role in an event which the Vail had invested so much. At the final meeting prior to the Chamber’s surprise application withdrawal last May 4th, I made a conciliatory offer of a share of event corporate sponsorship revenues to support the Chamber’s own scholarship and fund raising efforts. Then-Chamber president Bob Lanieri declined the offer, stating that there was inadequate advance time for such an effort.  If it was inadequate time for that single aspect, I was left wondering how he had planned to run the entire event if his application had been approved. Clearly, he was depending on the BID for far more than financial support.

This year opened with unexpected negativity when Mr. Pickersgill insulted my efforts to open a constructive dialogue. BID leaders and the supervisor insinuated that the Vail was not fulfilling an agreement to provide financial data, publicly smearing the Vail’s reputation in the process.  Ultimately, the supervisor had to grudgingly admit to the media that there was no way to force the Vail to comply with something we had never agreed to in writing, although he could not resist a thinly veiled threat of retaliation in his all-too-customary style.

Much political lip service is given to the Music Hall as a cultural jewel of our community, but the continued actions and words of the supervisor and his gang of BID allies demonstrate a persistent pattern to discredit and financially harm the Vail-Leavitt. They have taken a “rule or ruin” approach to downtown…one must either benignly comply with their bullying or risk being steamrollered. Mr. Pickersgill’s ego-driven agenda to manipulate quasi-governmental power makes him a formidable threat to anyone who dares to oppose him. Mr. Coates, meanwhile, views all his dealings as political chess where there is no room for compassion or community legacy – only a ruthless drive for personal victory no matter how low the tactical methods.

They give dark perspective to the BID’s recent catch phrase, “Can’t you just feel it?”

As my board discussed our concurrent fundraising plans, I realized the Vail could be at financial risk. The BID could change dates unexpectedly (since no Chapter 90 application had been filed) or they could prepare site plans to limit the Music Hall’s ability to participate or even be accessible to those we sought to draw inside for our needed fund raising events. I considered all these risks and this history when I directed Vince Tria to submit applications for small-scale, free events on the two dates to ensure the Vail-Leavitt’s ability to make most effective use of the opportunity and not be financially held hostage by the whims of the BID.  I then departed for a trip to New Orleans, where I made personal contact with several prospective performers about their summer schedule availability.

When I returned, I read the media accounts which emerged during my trip and began ROTFLMAO (e-mail shorthand for “rolling on the floor laughing my adenoids out”). The BID leaders have clearly demonstrated their arrogance and presumptuousness by committing tax dollars to contractual obligations when they had not even submitted the prerequisite plan and application for these events. If I made contractual agreements with bands while I was in New Orleans, it would have been with the knowledge that I had dutifully submitted my application materials for permit first.  Why should supposedly professional businessmen be excused for making premature commitments…just because they “called dibs” publicly on the dates, or to save face from lack of due diligence? Can anybody call dibs on a date this way, or just the BID?  Write this down, Ray, so you won’t forget it…don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

Last year, the Vail-Leavitt’s event filing was threatened by the supervisor with an “unhappy outcome” as he advocated preference for a competing second application which was in clear violation of trademark property rights.  This year, the Vail-Leavitt filed for free events both as an offering to our community and a protective measure toward our own financial survival. Mr. Walter’s advocacy of this secondary application is far more emphatic than last year, and now threatens violation of due process. Apparently, the supervisor and his cohorts believe the public is too unconcerned, too preoccupied or too easily fooled to recognize the pattern of cronyism which is now inescapably conspicuous.

Clearly, the decision will be made by the very same Town Board which I invited to engage in constructive dialogue with my organization nearly five months ago. Concerned townspeople of Riverhead should observe and listen carefully to all involved parties as this situation unfolds.  Watch for announcements on our website at”, where you can contribute to aid our efforts or contact us directly via email or Facebook.

Finally, thanks to our community for their continuing support.

Mr. Barta is president of the council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, Inc.