Thursday, March 6, 2014

Free game tickets for politicians?

Is it ethical for elected officials to accept free tickets to the Charlotte Knights' opening game in their new uptown stadium?

The Knights invited City Council members, Mecklenburg County commissioners and one guest each to the grand opening of BB&T Ballpark on April 11. The stadium was built with considerable taxpayer help as the Knights sought to leave their longtime home in York County.

That puts politicians in the position of deciding whether taking the tickets is ethical. The county's ethics policy is more restrictive than the city's, and so City Council members in particular will have to determine what to do.

Republican Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour wisely sought County Attorney Marvin Bethune's opinion this week on whether accepting free tickets would violate the county's ethics policy. Bethune wisely concluded that it would. The county policy has a provision that explicitly governs tickets to cultural and sporting events. The county will pay $830,000 to the Knights next March as part of the agreement that got the stadium built. So commissioners have a conflict in taking free tickets, Bethune said.

The city's ethics policy is less forbidding, and lacks the provision about tickets. It simply encourages City Council members to act in a way that does not create the appearance of impropriety. But who decides where that line is? Each individual council member.

The Knights' grand opening is a big community event. Elected officials, one could argue, should be there as part of their job and so shouldn't have to pay for their tickets. Besides, how much political influence could the Knights secure from a measly $18 ticket?

Better to avoid any appearance of a quid pro quo, we've always said. Politicians' credibility is already at an all-time low with voters. Accepting free tickets of any value feeds a cynicism that sees many politicians as in it for themselves more than for the public good. It's true that the deal with the Knights is already locked in, but it's possible the team could come back to the public for further help down the road.

The county has a strict ethics policy, which is smart. It says, in part: "A gift of one or more tickets to attend a cultural or sporting event that is supported directly or indirectly in any way by an appropriation of money from the County (an "Event") creates the appearance of influence, regardless of the value thereof. No County Official may, therefore, solicit or receive any tickets to an Event if the County" has given money toward the event or if the event promoters will be seeking money from the county.

Ridenhour was right to be wary, and Bethune was right to steer commissioners away from accepting free tickets.

The city policy merely asks council members to consider what a "reasonable" person would think. We think we're reasonable, and we think City Council members should pay their own way.

Now, let's play ball.

-- Taylor Batten


Carol Justus said...

How do you think that the tickets given to the politicians are FREE????

We, the taxpayer of the county, city, state, or federal government are paying dearly for those tickets you say are free.

Who do you think pays for those free trips the politicians get to the most exotic places on earth--the corporation or lobbyist--not a chance--it is the TAXPAYER!!

Who do you think is paying the decision the so called supreme made when ruled that money was speech (did any of yours say goodby) and corporations were the same as people and could SPEND UNLIMITED AMOUNTS TO INFLUENCE ANY ELECTION HELD IN THIS---WHAT WAS A GREAT COUNTRY---UNTIL WE GET DECISIONS LIKE THAT--------MONEY IS BRIBERY---ASK THE MIDDLE SCHOOL CHILD THAT IS BEING BULLIED AND SEE IF THINKS MONEY IS SPEECH!!!

Bill said...

Carol - I'd suggest cutting back on the caffeinne and take up yoga.

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Elena Smithson said...

This is a great blog, it show the reality of all politicians that use the own power of low level work. These p [politicians are capable to pay the ticket price but it shows little strength of own power.

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