Spotty Record-Keeping Makes It Difficult to Determine Exactly Who Is Benefiting from the Mayor and City Council's Use of the Taxpayer-Financed Perks. Reform of Skybox Use by City a Work in Progress

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The good times are still rolling for guests in the city's arena and stadium skyboxes - and all at taxpayer expense.

Ten months after the Times-Union uncovered pricey parties for city officials and their guests at concerts and sporting events, only some of the policies meant to rein in the practices are being followed.

But Mayor John Peyton said he's pleased with the reforms, particularly since his office has distributed a number of tickets to community leaders, nonprofit organizations and city employees being recognized for their performance.

"We're getting good use of the box for the right purposes," he said.

The city has free use of two 24-seat boxes at the Jacksonville Memorial Stadium - one for the City Council and one for the mayor - and a 16-seat box at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

A Times-Union review of invoices and guest lists from February - when the new policy took effect - through this month shows that the city racked up more than $6,400 in food and beverage costs, much of it to entertain city staffers. For Jaguars games, that averages to $513.44 on refreshments.

Only $288.87 was reimbursed, the records show. The city did not have records for the ACC title game or for the Jaguars game Dec. 9.

Jaguars tickets cost the city more than $39,000. The city receives its arena seats for free.

Peyton defended spending that amount for Jaguars tickets, even as his administration has preached belt-tightening and passed three new fees on to residents. He said the city needs to "lead by example," by supporting the team, which has struggled with ticket sales.

But the city's practices don't sit well with Ethics Officer Carla Miller. She said that use of the skyboxes will be a priority of hers for next year.

"The way the tickets and the way the perks come into the city is something that needs to be more transparent, and it needs to be fair," she said. "The slate needs to be wiped clean and we need to start over."

Peyton said the city uses the skyboxes to entertain people who may bring business to the city - but earlier this year he could not provide proof of that.

That has not changed.

Records for this season still do not designate when an event is intended for economic development purposes. In an interview, Peyton said the city could not disclose some contacts because of the confidentiality of business deals, but he did say the city gave football tickets to HBO officials filming a movie in Jacksonville. They are not identified on the records.

Even when guests are listed, not all of them are identified because often one person is given two tickets, and the other person is not identified.

Each council member receives two tickets for five games and a season parking pass, but members do not have to identify their guests. City Council President Daniel Davis, who receives six tickets in the council box to each game, also does not have to disclose who accompanies him.

Miller said the city should keep records of exactly who uses the boxes, and put them online. That would be in keeping with changes coming with new ethics laws the city recently enacted that require all gifts to the city to be logged into an online registry.

Davis said he has given many tickets to community groups, and he often attends games under the auspices of the Tourist Development Council and entertains visitors who may want to do business with the city.

"It can be used, if properly, in the right fashion." he said.

Records do show the city distributes many arena tickets to the military and to community groups, and football tickets have gone to leaders of nonprofit groups.

They also indicate that access to tickets, especially premier events, still remains largely a perk reserved for the top levels of city administration and Mayor's Office staff. …


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