The annual PBS taping of Bluegrass Underground at Cumberland Caverns has become a hot ticket and could have McMinnville officials facing an ethics conundrum. Popularity continues to drive up ticket costs.
In its seventh season, one general admission ticket is now $82.50. Individuals wanting to attend all three taping sessions Friday, Saturday and Sunday will pay $237.62.
The city of McMinnville has underwritten the production of the PBS series for several years. As a token of appreciation, show producers provide city officials with 30 free tickets – 10 free tickets per night of the three-night filming event.
In the past, city officials have taken spouses and friends. Tickets they don’t use have been offered to city employees and others.
According to city attorney Tim Pirtle, the rising ticket value is what has created the problem. In the beginning, the ticket value did not exceed $50, which is acceptable by ethics standards.
“When Bluegrass Underground involved the city, the passes were $20,” said Pirtle. “The price went up later to $30. At $20, even if you are taking two of the tickets, it would have been below the $50 threshold that most of the ethics policies provide. The value has now gone significantly beyond that.”
Now that tickets are in excess of $50 each, the musical tone has changed.
“As the ethics officer for the board, I think it is incumbent upon me to advise you that you as a board need to adopt a policy that ensures those complimentary passes are, in fact, used for the promotion of the event rather than for personal use or else there could be an ethical issue that could arise,” said Pirtle.
He suggests the board set a policy that states the passes may only be used to promote the event and under the following priorities: 1) Elected officials who would be reasonably expected to promote the event; 2) City employees who commit to taking a first-time guest; 3) Community and civic leaders and public figures who support the event; 4) Any disadvantaged citizen who might otherwise be unable to attend.
Being complimentary tickets, they are not allowed to be transferred to a third party or sold for their monetary value.
“The promotional nature of the passes should exclude anyone from exchanging it for value or trans-ferred to a third party who’s intended use is not promotion of the event,” said Pirtle. “The MTAS (Mu-nicipal Technical Advisory Service) senior counsel advised me that unless the use is promotional, then they should not be used by elected officials.”
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved the policy during Tuesday night’s regular session. The annual PBS taping of Bluegrass Underground is next weekend, March 24-26.