It is concerning to me that certain recent events have prompted questions and concerns regarding the appropriateness of elected officials being provided complimentary admission to ticketed events, (whether they be tickets to performances at cultural venues, special events, and/or charity galas and parties) where the attendance of the official includes the performance of an “official duty” (like, for example, the giving of a proclamation or the presentation of a key to the City).
As I learned from my years in the State Legislature, and as the City Attorney briefed me when I became a City Commissioner, the receipt by elected officials of complimentary admission or tickets to an event, performance, party/gala, etc. must be reviewed in accordance with State and County Ethics laws to determine: (1) whether it is a “gift”, as defined by law; (2) whether the gift can be accepted, and; (3) whether the gift needs to be disclosed. Additionally, it is my understanding from my briefing with the City Attorney, that where a City official is attending an event to perform an official function (such as giving a proclamation or presenting a key to the City), then the facts may support the conclusion that a gift is not being made.
I have always admired the City’s initiative and regional leadership in ethics laws; both in terms of breaking new ground and adopting new/additional laws (such as the City’s groundbreaking campaign finance reform laws), as well as in adopting stricter standards for certain measures than those required under State and County ethics law. Because we have frequently held ourselves to a higher standard, I would like to see the City Commission do a better job of “policing” itself with regard to gift laws and, specifically, with regard to the receipt of free tickets and/or complimentary admission to the type of events I’ve enumerated above (there may be more).
I think it is incumbent upon us to adopt policies and procedures with regard to those instances where we are requested to, or where we ourselves make a request to, present a proclamation, give a key to the City, or perform some other “official duty” at a ticketed event (which events would include, but not be limited to the examples I enumerated above, and which could occur on either City property and/or City owned venues or at private venues). For example, even if we are attending the event to perform an official duty, is it appropriate for us to accept a free ticket or otherwise be “comped?” Should there be a centralized process in the Mayor and Commission’s Office for tracking? Is it appropriate for us to attend alone or, with one or more additional guests? I throw these hypothetical questions out because I think it supports my request that, when it comes to elected officials attending events on a complimentary basis, even if they are performing official functions, we need to have policies and procedures to ensure BETTER TRACKING; TRANSPARENCY; ACCOUNTABILITY; AND AVOIDANCE OF EVEN THE PERCEPTION OF IMPROPRIETY OR CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
Even though I have put this on for discussion, it is my intent to make a motion to direct the City Attorney to work with the City Manager and the City’s Inspector General to develop policies and procedures, which, if my motion is approved, would be brought back to the City Commission at a future date, for its consideration.
In addition, I have attached Resolution No. 2014-28638, which was the last adopted version of the City’s policies and procedures regarding the use and distribution of City tickets to events and productions occurring at City-owned venues and/or City sponsored events. Given that it’s been six years since these policies have been reviewed, my motion will also include that the City Attorney, City Manager, and Inspector General take a comprehensive look at them, and provide any recommendations as to what, if any, revisions need to be made in order to strengthen the policies to comport to the highest ethical standards.
Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact my aide Luis Callejas at extension 26441.