Complaint: Pasadena leaders received thousands in Rose Bowl tickets

Pasadena leaders received tens of thousands of dollars in free Rose Bowl tickets last year

Pasadena city leaders received tens of thousands of dollars worth of free tickets to the Rose Bowl in 2014, according to a Times analysis of ticket disclosure forms.

The disclosure forms don't provide the exact value of the tickets, showing only a range of ticket prices. Based on the reports, the value of tickets received by Pasadena officials was at least $42,000, but could have been as high as $157,000.

Free tickets are a common perk for officials in cities such as Los Angeles or Anaheim, where there are large entertainment venues. But Pasadena officials' acceptance of free tickets has raised concerns with some residents.

Lonnee Hamilton, the president of a homeowner's association representing a street near the Rose Bowl, has filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that the ticket gifts represent a conflict of interest.

"My councilwoman voted to have Jay-Z and Beyonce come to Pasadena, and then she gets 12 tickets to the concert? To me that is just a problem," Hamilton said, referring to former Councilwoman Jacque Robinson, who stepped down this year.

City Manager Michael Beck said the "vast majority" of the tickets city leaders get are distributed to community members, other city employees and people with whom the city wants to build business or civic relationships. Council members use the tickets to represent the city at the event, he added.

“Elected officials do not make decisions that impact the community based on being provided those tickets,” Beck said. “I've been with the city for six and a half years, and I don't think I've ever just sat and watched an event.”

Hamilton's complaint is "under review," according to Jay Wierenga, FPPC spokesman. The agency "takes all complaints seriously" but would not comment on whether the agency plans to investigate, he said.

The tickets were for six UCLA home football games, a soccer game and concerts featuring Jay-Z, Rihanna, Beyonce, Eminem and One Direction. City officials usually received multiple tickets per event.

Hamilton's complaint alleges that Pasadena's ticket gifts were excessive and "ethically compromised" council members who vote on Rose Bowl issues. It names each member of last year's City Council, former Mayor Bill Bogaard and Beck.

Hamilton cited the stadium's recent renovation, which overran its cost estimates by about $30 million, as an example of city leaders representing the Rose Bowl’s interests over the public’s. She says the council began to approve more events at the Rose Bowl to make up the difference – 18 this year, as opposed to 12 or fewer in previous years.

"The policy needs to be changed and there needs to be a limit on how many they can take," said Hamilton, who says she paid full price to watch a Jay-Z and Beyonce concert at the Rose Bowl. "They don't need to create a ceremonial reason to be at these concerts."

Beck said the additional events are unrelated to the Rose Bowl's finances.

Each city adopts its own policy to regulate ticket gifts. Pasadena's law allows officials to receive tickets for a variety of reasons: rewarding people for public service, recognizing achievements, and cultivating the city's business interests. If officials attend the event as a representative of the city, they can get tickets for each member of their immediate family. There's no limit to the number of tickets an official can request.

Ticket gifts for elected officials have drawn criticism in the past, but the main issue has been disclosure. 

In 2011, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was fined nearly $42,000 for not disclosing getting free tickets to dozens of events during his term, including several Lakers and Dodgers games.

The FPPC has required government officials to make explicit disclosures about ticket gifts since 2009, Wierenga said. State law limits gifts for elected officials to $460, but no such limit exists for tickets, he said. 

It's common and often useful for officials to represent their cities at public events, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies public corruption. But she says getting free tickets causes a perception problem that politicians could avoid.

"I think if a public official really needs to represent the city at the Rose Bowl, they could just pay for the tickets," Levinson said.

@frankshyong

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