As City Reporter Tyler Cleveland reports this week, the Jackson City Council quietly, on Nov. 19, added a $5 ticket surcharge for events at Thalia Mara Hall when the municipal auditorium reopens after a months-long renovation.
The surcharge will help offset the cost of a $5 million makeover that will include replacing the 45-year-old HVAC unit, installing new seats and carpeting, restroom upgrades and bringing the building into compliance with federal accessibility requirements.
Concert promoter Arden Barnett and council members Quentin Whitwell and Margaret Barrett-Simon—both of whom dissented in levying the charge—fear raising ticket prices will negatively affect the local arts scene. Whether those fears have merit remain to be seen. It's doubtful that an extra five bucks tacked onto the price of a ticket will cause many people to skip a show they really want to see and spend a quiet evening at home.
The amount of the surcharge isn't the problem; it's the way it came about. The apparent brainchild of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and Thalia Mara Director Michael Raff, the surcharge was apparently presented to the council as a financial imperative. Maybe it is; maybe it isn't. However, one of the bedrock principles of successful governments is to have open, transparent dialogue—and timely notice—of actions that will cost taxpayers money.
In this case, only a portion of the cash is coming directly from government coffers, but people who live and play in the city are on the hook. Recently, in this space, we opined that the mayor should give the council time to do its homework before presenting problems as emergencies.
Now, we're imploring the council to give similar notice to citizens as well as producers such as Arden's ardenland and W. Kessler Ltd. before dipping into people's pocketbooks. These people know Jackson's entertainment landscape well, and deserve a forum to offer their professional opinions about the short- and long-term impact of imposing a surcharge.
A good case study should be the public-relations campaign around the proposed 1-percent sales tax increase, for which the city has held nearly a dozen town hall meetings. Whether or not you like the idea of the proposal, no one can say the city hasn't tried to engage the citizens in an open and honest discussion.
It's possible that like some of the sales-tax forums, a town hall for the $5 ticket hike at Thalia Mara would be sparsely attended. But would it be asking too much to seek counsel from the people who rent out the hall or their customers?
We don't believe such a process would be overly burdensome. The Jackson City Council should rescind its action and hold a public hearing on the ticket surcharge as soon as possible. Or, at the least, commit to not making the same mistake again.