After an outcry about charging money to see Mayor Jim Ridenour's annual state of the city speech, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it will set aside free seats for people who want to watch Ridenour's address without paying a $40 admission fee.
The mayor is scheduled to deliver his speech at a Feb. 17 luncheon that also will feature a talk about the region's economy from a Bank of the West economist and a question-and-answer session led by land-use attorney George Petrulakis.
In past years, Ridenour has made the speech in public venues such as high schools and the State Theatre. Other cities, such as Turlock and Stockton, have held their state of the city speeches at paid chamber of commerce events. Stanislaus County Supervisor Jeff Grover's recent state of the county speech was delivered during a normal supervisors meeting, with no admission charge.
Ridenour has said he accepted the chamber's invitation to speak because he wants to strengthen ties between government and business — a move he says will help create jobs in a county ravaged by unemployment.
Likewise, chamber members said they invited Ridenour because they wanted to hear more from municipal leaders after a chamber event last fall that featured four Stanislaus County mayors.
But some decried the $40 charge to see Ridenour speak. The event is open to the public and will be televised repeatedly on Comcast. The text of the speech will be posted on the city's Web site.
In past years, Modesto's state of the city speeches have been sparsely attended affairs, with city employees making up most of the audience. Chamber Chief Executive Joy Madison told The Bee that inviting chamber members to see the speech was meant to bring the event to a wider audience.
"There should be more people there and there should be more people taking interest in what's going on," Madison said last week. "We were trying to do a good thing."
The luncheon is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at DoubleTree Hotel. To purchase tickets or reserve free seats, call 577-5757 or go to to modchamber.org