When it comes to free tickets, City Hall should just say no

Taking free tickets to the Made in America festival promoter creates a bad perception for City Hall

How soon they forget. It was only three years ago that four Los Angeles City Council members — including Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was then a councilman — and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were fined thousands of dollars for accepting free tickets to awards shows, dinners and concerts in violation of city ethics rules.

Villaraigosa agreed to pay $42,000 in fines to state and city regulators for taking free tickets from companies that had business with the city and for failing to report the tickets as gifts. Garcetti, along with Councilmen Jose Huizar and Herb Wesson and former Councilman Tony Cardenas, were dinged for accepting gifts of more than $100 a year from individuals and groups that have business before the city.

But the memory of TicketGate must have faded because 12 of the 15 current council members had no qualms about accepting free tickets to the Made in America festival downtown last weekend, despite the fact that concert promoter Live Nation conducts business with the city and, in fact, received special treatment from the city in terms of permit expediting and cutting red tape.

The city ethics rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting gifts worth more than $100 from bidders, contractors and others with a financial stake in a city decision. A two-day pass to the concert, which is what most council offices received, was priced at $185.

However, Garcetti’s office told Times reporter Emily Alpert-Reyes that the rule didn’t apply in this case because the festival was sponsored by the city and so the mayor was legally allowed to receive and hand out the tickets.

The acceptance of the tickets may be legal in this case, but that doesn’t mean it was a wise decision.

Garcetti has boasted that he sought out the Made in America festival and helped clear away the usual bureaucracy that slows permitting, street closures and security. The City Council approved a fixed price of $500,000 for setup and security, without knowing how much the event would cost taxpayers. That’s special treatment for a company doing business in the city. It may be justifiable treatment, if the concert delivers more in revenue than it cost, but it’s still a favor for a company.

Did the mayor or the City Council roll out the red carpet for Live Nation so they could rock out to Kanye West and Imagine Dragons for free? Of course not. But taking free tickets to the festival after granting special treatment to the concert promoter creates a bad perception — that a business can curry favor with gifts or that cutting red tape is worth something more than a verbal “thank you.”  

When it comes to taking free tickets, city leaders should just say no.

For more opinions, follow me @kerrycavan

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