Today we examine the custom of our civic leaders habitually arranging for themselves free event tickets from the developers they are responsible for regulating and to whom they frequently find themselves giving public money. Are there any reasons for concern, do you think?
For the record, I don't understand how a surround-sound system can shake a City to its foundations, yet revelations of tens of thousands of dollars worth of commercial event admissions are met only with smirks and soft pats on the head -- but there are so many things I don't understand.
"If it sounds like an appropriate request, I don't think we stand on ceremony," said Mary Conturo, the authority's executive director. (P-G, Joe Smydo)
Ah! Very good. It has to be an appropriate request. Now we're just down to how we distinguish appropriate economic development uses from personal and political uses. Any outing during which food and beverages are paid for out of a campaign fund, for example, would by definition be an outing in the nature of a political use. Or are we going too fast?
Mr. Fontana said he doesn't use the tickets himself but gives them to neighborhood groups and officials visiting from other parts of the state. (ibid)
"Other parts of the state" -- that's good! Pittsburghers, we can assume, are already passingly well aware of the awesome PNC Park experience, but visiting out-of-towners truly ought to be awed by our fairytale skyline. "Community groups," however -- do we mean "constituents"? "Voters"? How are we supposed to run against somebody who can hand Steelers tickets out to community group leaders? May as well just give them parking spaces, or have PennDOT mow their lawn.
Former Mayor Sophie Masloff received about 60 tickets to 30 events, records showed. She said she has given tickets to family members but never requested what she considered an excessive amount. (ibid)
"Family members". PROBABLY NOT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, Soph.
"Sometimes, they go to neighborhood organizations," city council President Darlene Harris, a Sports and Exhibition Authority board member, said. (ibid)
Hey! Wait a minute. I'm actually in Darlene's neighborhood -- and I've been here as long as she's been in office. Should I feel slighted? Sending me to a game would pay off in terms of "economic development" every bit as much as sending somebody from the community Conference, Alliance, Council, Federation or Jamboree. Is this an indication that I should have supported Vincent Pallus instead? We probably would have wound up with the same Finance Chair, and I could be getting my fair share of swag.
To improve accountability and transparency, city Controller Michael Lamb and county Controller Chelsa Wagner said, the authority should document the names of those receiving tickets and the reasons tickets are provided. (ibid)
That would be a good start. However sometimes these things get tripped up during the follow-through phase. Witness the Ethics Hearing Board, which meets each and every month during which WTAE reporter Bob Mayo throws cinder blocks at the City-County Building; and its mandated Gift Disclosure page, from which we learn that only one (1) city official has accepted one (1) gift once since 2009.
Personal use of tickets, Ms. Nadler added, is flat-out wrong. "You are never to use your position for personal benefit." (ibid)
Clearly she's not from around here, so moving right along...
"The bottom line is the SEA gives the tickets to the mayor because they want him at events," Ms. Doven said in an email, referring to the Sports and Exhibition Authority. "His appearance shows city support for what is going on in the city. That is part of his job as mayor. If the mayor has additional tickets, then his priority is to use them to promote the city." (ibid)
Technically, his purchasing a ticket would be more supportive of the city. In this instance the city is much closer to supporting him, right? Although I suppose there is room for discussion about the extent to which U2 and Bon Jovi benefited from the mayor's support. A long, gratuitously repetitive discussion over the next ten months, until it's impossible to think of the name "Ravenstahl" without thinking about U2 and Bon Jovi.
On Mr. Fitzgerald's watch, she said, tickets will be used only for business purposes and all requests for tickets will come from the executive's office. (ibid)
Excellent that he's gone on record -- but it begs the question, how is the city and region going to get along without his support? Sounds dangerous.
It also provided tickets to several legislators who were identified, including the Winter Classic and McCartney concert tickets to state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, who could not be reached for comment. (ibid)
Some people are plainly too important to respond to such nattering. Yet somehow in this case the "no comment" is almost more open and honest. I work hard, I deserve tickets, nobody can stop me. That's the sort of bold leadership we've come to expect from state leaders.
Records showed that city Councilman Bill Peduto received tickets to two events, but he said he actually received tickets to three. Twice, he said, he took international visitors to baseball games. Once, he said, he took family members. (ibid)
See? What a wuss.
Clearly, the rules are too loose and must be tightened. In the age of transparency, the agency's records are a muddy stream that don't even reveal why officials are receiving tickets. This is nonsense and part of the petty, grasping behavior that this region should have outgrown years ago.
Stop it. (P-G, Edit Board)
Directly underneath our public officials' hilarious rationalizations for such graft is the idea that, "Everyone else is just jealous. You wish you were running this town, so you could do it too." That's the precise mentality that needs overthrowing forever. We're not going to get the leadership we deserve until we change the culture of entitlement, this sense of royal privilege.
This SEA business is a great place to start, and the media would do well to force the issue relentlessly.