ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Ticket to Ethical Compromise

Every time questions about Disneyland's close association with Anaheim City Hall arise, there are expressions of indignation from city officials. They seem surprised that anyone would imply that they might be influenced by the favors they have grown so used to accepting from the theme park. But by now it should be clear that there should be no further lunches, dinners, tickets, trips or any other Disney perquisites accepted by city officials--especially by members of the City Council.

Keeping a distance is extraordinarily important now because Anaheim is negotiating with the Walt Disney Co. on what the city will provide in the way of public improvements related to the planned $3-billion expansion of Disneyland. The city's bill could run as high as $1 billion. If the public is to have confidence in these proceedings, there must be absolutely no hint that city officials might favor the park.

The most recent brouhaha grew out of the possibility that three City Council members--a majority--might not be able to vote on matters concerning Disneyland for a year because they had accepted--mostly on behalf of others--too many free tickets to the park. State conflict-of-interest codes prohibit officials from voting on matters concerning a donor who has given them more than $250 in money or gifts during a year.

When the city turned to the Fair Political Practices Commission for help in sorting out the free tickets issue, the commission cleared the way for the City Council members involved to cast their votes on Disney matters. The FPPC decided that only tickets obtained by city officials for friends, family and associates would constitute "gifts" under conflict-of-interest laws; those obtained for visiting dignitaries or charitable groups would be "protocol exceptions" not counted as gifts.

Still, the FPPC was uncomfortable enough about the city's ticket brokering to recommend that it cease. The city attorney has said the city will abide by this suggestion. Free ticket requests must now go directly to Disney. Good.

Now is an appropriate time for the city to thoroughly review whatever remaining ties it has to Disney to see what other practices may prove, upon scrutiny, to be questionable.

City officials of course want to maintain good relations with Disney. That can and must be done, however, without the usual perks.

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