Meet Erin Palmer, the woman who controls the keys to the city’s suite at the new Golden 1 Center.
Her official title: ticket administrator. Her job: decide who gets into the suite for Kings games, concerts and other must-see events.
With that much power over a prized perk, this could be one of the best gigs in Sacramento – or one of the worst. Palmer could be really popular, or much hated – probably both. She’ll definitely need a thick skin, having to say “no” even to politicians and other bigwigs.
While Palmer has a bubbly personality, she says, “I’m definitely not afraid to assert myself.”
We’ll see if Palmer is the “perfect fit,” as described by her boss, City Clerk Shirley Concolino, but she does seem to have the right résumé.
Palmer, 34, grew up in Pennsylvania and earned her degree in public relations and music at Temple University. Since 2004, she has worked at performing arts centers, first in Philadelphia, then in Toronto and for the last eight years at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, where she was programming director, selecting speakers and scheduling community and student events.
There was no shortage of applicants for the post, which pays $86,185 a year. More than 200 sent in inquiries, compared to fewer than 80 to be the next city manager. Concolino sent 60 candidates to receptions so she could see if they had the right stuff.
Palmer, who lives in Oak Park, says she wanted the job because she loves Sacramento and is excited about what the new arena can do, not just for economic development, but also for the community.
When she sat down with me at City Hall on Friday, the end of a whirlwind first week, she was still abuzz from the two Paul McCartney shows that opened the arena.
It’s not first-come, first-served on ticket requests, so it’s a touchy task to figure out who gets the 20 seats (plus standing room for 12) for high-demand events. Palmer is supposed to judge what best elevates the “public purposes” of the tickets – to boost economic development (the top priority), promote city programs, raise employee morale and reward public service.
Even with that suite policy approved by the City Council last month (which Concolino says will be updated within three to six months), Palmer has a lot of discretion. She says a “great many variables” will determine who gets tickets.
And just think of the tough calls that could come up. What if a controversial community group requests tickets? How do you judge whether it’s too objectionable?
“That’s a very, very good question,” Palmer says. It will be a team decision by the clerk’s office, based on the group’s mission, not on politics or ideology.
Or how bad does drunkenness or other bad behavior in the suite have to be to get banned?
This also will be decided case by case. An accidental spill of a beer will probably be forgiven, but if arena security kicks you out, you’re not getting invited back.
Palmer says her job is to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, but won’t hesitate to ask unruly fans to leave – with a smile, but sternly. She said there were no problems at the two McCartney concerts.
At the last minute, the city made a trade-off on the suite that could make her task a little easier. It accepted a less desirable location – Suite 32 in a corner, to the left of the concert stage, instead of closer to center court – in exchange for five more tickets.
Under the suite policy, Palmer is supposed to use her “best efforts” so that over the course of a year, 10 percent of suite spaces go to the mayor, 2 percent to each council member, 10 percent to city departments and 4 percent total for the city manager, attorney, clerk and treasurer.
Another 30 percent of tickets are aimed for economic development. 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.
For me, that allocation is too tilted to City Hall insiders. They may have worked on the city’s $255 million subsidy toward the $557 million construction cost, but taxpayers are actually footing the bill. I’m sure that many of the 100,000 or so people who came to an open house on Oct. 1 would love a free ticket to the suite.
I do give credit to the clerk’s office for doing more than required on transparency. The public will be able to keep track of who gets in the suite, thanks to reports the city plans to post online each Saturday.
For the first McCartney concert, the suite seats were given entirely to current and former city officials and mostly to “reward public service, including Assistant City Manager John Dangberg and retired Treasurer Russ Fehr, who both led the city’s efforts on the arena deal.
For the second show, Palmer attended along with 20 students from the Sacramento Prep Music Academy studying to perform the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” on Dec. 17. That’s the kind of ideal match Palmer will seek, but how often they will come along?
So while Palmer has a lot of challenges, she also has a big opportunity.
Call me naive, but I believe that the suite could bring together Sacramentans who otherwise wouldn’t meet and talk. It could help unify our city.
The other 81 lofts and suites are going to be filled with bureaucrats schmoozing business prospects, lobbyists wining and dining clients, and legislators holding fundraisers.
The Kings play their first game in their new home Monday night, with one more preseason and 41 regular-season contests to come. Wouldn’t it be nice if at least one suite had some average fans cheering them on?