10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

While some shows in the Riverside Fox Performing Arts Center’s first season played to sold-out crowds and others had unimpressive ticket sales, many shows had one thing in common: city officials sitting in the audience for free.

Riverside elected officials attended events at the Fox 48 times during the inaugural season, from the Jan. 15 opening gala to a June 5 performance by Bill Cosby, according to information on the city website.

It’s legal for officials to accept event tickets as long as they follow state regulations requiring them to either report the tickets as income or explain the public purpose of attending the event.

Since the historic Fox theater opened in January after a $32 million renovation, the city has had 20 tickets set aside for every show, if officials choose to use them. Under a new policy, the city must record how the tickets are used.

Those documents reveal some council members have been regular visitors to the Fox. Councilman Paul Davis and Councilwoman Nancy Hart each took tickets to 10 shows plus the gala, the most of any council members.

The season included about 18 events, several of which had as many as five performances.

Davis, whose tickets had a face value of $909, said in a phone interview that he gets to shows early to meet with current and prospective donors to the theater’s foundation. Being there allowed him to convince two people to contribute, he said.

He attends the shows for entertainment, he said, “But I understand my responsibility is to promote not only the city and the venue but also the downtown corridor.”

Hart could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Aside from the gala, which all council members attended, documents show William “Rusty” Bailey attended nine events; Mike Gardner went to six shows; Steve Adams saw five shows, and Andy Melendrez took one ticket.

One bought tickets

Mayor Ron Loveridge accepted a ticket for the gala and no other events. Councilman Chris Mac Arthur took no tickets.

Mac Arthur said by phone he went to the gala and saw Sheryl Crow, Pat Benatar, America and Bill Cosby. While it shouldn’t be construed as a criticism of his colleagues, he said, he paid for every ticket himself.

“My own feeling is that if we’re asking our residents and the community to support the Fox, I think it’s important that we as individuals buy our own tickets,” Mac Arthur said.

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