Just in time, City Hall is finishing up a policy on who gets to use the city’s luxury suite at the new downtown Sacramento arena that opens in a month.
But the guidelines, which go before the City Council on Tuesday, need retooling to make sure this precious perk doesn’t mainly benefit politicians, bureaucrats and business bigwigs, and to make sure the public knows who exactly is getting the free tickets.
Under the 35-year arena lease with the Kings, the city gets the use of a suite at Golden 1 Center for all events except NBA playoff games, the NCAA tournament and a few selected others. That’s 20 prime seats for 41 regular season Kings games, plus concerts and other events, about 200 a year. (Suite users will have to pay for their own food and drinks.)
The ticket policy gives top priority to boosting economic development as well as promoting city programs and Sacramento’s cultural offerings, boosting city employee morale, recognizing public service and advancing other “public purposes.”
Under the current proposal, the goal is to allocate 10 percent of suite seats to the mayor and 2 percent to each City Council member. So about one-fourth of tickets would go to elected officials to hand out or use themselves.
Another 10 percent would be given to city departments and 4 percent total for the city manager, attorney, clerk and treasurer. City officials will also control the 30 percent of tickets aimed for economic development. That total 70 percent share inside City Hall is too high.
Only 30 percent of seats would go directly to community groups, the most likely way into the suite for residents who don’t have connections and who aren’t business prospects. It’s also possible that non-insiders could get some of the 14 percent of suite seats assigned to city administrators. And some City Council members told The Bee’s Anita Chabria and Dale Kasler that they plan to give their tickets to deserving youth in their districts.
But a better balance is needed up front between City Hall insiders and the rest of us. Something closer to a 50-50 split seems more reasonable.
These allocation goals are over the course of an entire year, not for each event. So it’s possible that all 20 seats for a big Kings game or sought-after concert could be filled by a council member’s entourage or executives of a company the city is helping recruit.
Under the proposed policy, supervision of suite tickets would be put under City Clerk Shirley Concolino, which makes sense since her office already handles disclosure forms on tickets and gifts.
Concolino promises robust transparency. She’s building a database that will list the ticket requester and user, the face value and the public purpose, and pledges to post the information publicly as soon as possible. The information must be reported to the state Fair Political Practices Commission within 45 days.
But there’s a huge loophole in disclosure that the City Council needs to close. The proposed policy allows reporting of just the name of the city department and the number of tickets – not each official or others receiving tickets. There may be a rare time when an economic development prospect needs to stay confidential, but there’s no reason for not naming city employees.
Concolino is still working on written procedures for determining who should get the seats when there are more requests than tickets available, as well as what to do with unrequested tickets. She’s also hiring a ticket administrator to manage the distribution and says she’s looking for someone who has good judgment and people skills – someone who can say “no.”
Concolino says she looked at how more than 15 other cities handle tickets, but readily admits the policy will need to be tweaked in six months or a year to fix any pitfalls.
Before the arena opens, the city should make sure access to the suite is open to the taxpayers who are footing the bill.