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Board reaps perks for city service

By Steve Harrison and Kerry Singe
sharrison@charlotteobserver.com and ksinge@charlotteobserver.com

The CRVA is governed by a 13-member board, which provides oversight in addition to hiring chief Tim Newman and setting his $306,000 compensation.

Being on the board also comes with perks; the biggest is access to thousands of dollars worth of tickets to the CRVA suite at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Former board member Anthony Fox - no relation to the mayor - was chair in 2009 and 2010. During those two years, Fox claimed 75 suite tickets for events such as Lil Wayne, Earth, Wind & Fire and Bobcats games, according to CRVA records.

Other board members have also claimed dozens of suite tickets and had their food and drinks paid for by Newman, even when clients weren't being entertained.

Board member Anthony Lindsey of Globe Crossing real estate claimed 44 tickets during those two years, according to records. He said it was important to see how the arena worked.

Current board chair Derick Close, who uses suite tickets "from time to time," said suite usage "does not in any way diminish our ability to oversee CRVA. ... It is intentional and beneficial to everyone in the hospitality and tourism business."

Fox also said that using the suite tickets was important to know how the arena operates, and that using them didn't diminish his ability to monitor the CRVA.

As part of its operating agreement with the Charlotte Bobcats for Time Warner Cable Arena, the CRVA usually has access to a suite and its 16 tickets.

Politicians and other governmental leaders have also benefited from CRVA perks.

When the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac played concerts at the arena in 2009, then-Mayor Pat McCrory was a guest in the suite, according to CRVA records. Newman spent $325 on food and drinks on his corporate credit card, with the Fleetwood Mac expenses a "thank-you for (McCrory's) service," according to Newman.

McCrory said he remembers attending the concerts but does not recall details of each one because, he said, he received hundreds of requests from CRVA and the Charlotte Chamber to meet with potential clients in his 14 years as mayor.

"The only time I did anything was to recruit for Charlotte," he said.

Former N.C. Rep. Ed McMahan was treated to food and drinks in the suite during a Hannah Montana concert, according to Newman's expense reports - a "gesture of thanks" for McMahan's work in the General Assembly for the hospitality industry, according to Newman.

The CRVA said clients are given top priority for suite tickets, then board members and other leaders, such as Charlotte City Council members. Staff members use the suite, and sometimes it's donated to charity.

At times, Newman has bought additional tickets for board members when the suite was full. In 2007, Fox asked Newman for Stevie Wonder tickets, but the suite was already full. So Newman used his corporate credit card and bought Fox $180 of tickets.

Fox also attended a CRVA-expenses trip to Las Vegas, for NASCAR's awards banquet at the Wynn Hotel.

In 2009, CRVA records show it bought $328 worth of Keith Urban tickets but only said it was a "board request." The CRVA later said it wasn't sure who the tickets were for.

The City Council has decided against nominating board members until June, so it can wait for the result of an outside consultant's study of the authority. Mayor Anthony Foxx, who said he doesn't recall visiting the suite, was asked whether the suite tickets could affect the ability of the board to oversee the CRVA. Foxx declined to answer that but said he's pleased the board has hired the consultant.

City Council member Michael Barnes, who is perhaps the most vocal critic of the CRVA on the council, accepted four free suite tickets to see Stevie Wonder in 2007. Barnes said the tickets didn't influence his judgment on how he monitors the authority.

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