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County employees accept food, event tickets

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

Mecklenburg Park and Recreation employees have received sports and concert tickets from the CRVA - gifts that have upset the head of the department and that the county attorney says may violate policy.

Some CRVA amateur sports clients rent county ballparks for sports tournaments, and the authority said it's important to reward "strategic partners" such as parks and rec employees.

In April 2008, the CRVA held a party for four parks employees, two of its own staff members and two tourism officials from Visit Lake Norman. The group attended a Bobcats game against Philadelphia, and the CRVA spent $1,145 on food, drinks and gifts.

A year later, the CRVA held a party for 10 park and recreation officials. It started at Strike City bowling alley and ended at the arena, where they watched the Bobcats play the Los Angeles Lakers. Total cost for the bowling, food and drinks: $969.

Former park and recreation staff member Greg Jackson received tickets to the ACC Legends Brunch, two tickets to the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl and tickets to the 2008 NCAA basketball tournament, plus drinks before the basketball games. Jackson now works in Greensboro, and said in an interview that work was discussed at events to which he was given tickets.

The CRVA also gave another parks and rec staffer four suite tickets to see the Bobcats play the Atlanta Hawks, and bought the staffer two Bruce Springsteen tickets in 2009.

Park and Recreation director Jim Garges said he's upset that current and former employees accepted hundreds of dollars of tickets to sporting events, food and drinks, and gifts from the CRVA. He said he didn't know about the gifts and parties.

"I understand what the CRVA is trying to do, to say thanks, but it's not necessary. It's our job, quite frankly, to work with them," Garges said. "If they want to give us something, they can give us $1,200 in Bobcats tickets so kids in our basketball leagues can go to a game."

County attorney Marvin Bethune said the expenditures may be a violation of county policy of employees accepting gifts over $100 in a year as a reward for doing their job.

The park and recreation perks were expensed by CRVA salesperson Mike Anderson, who handles amateur sports clients. CRVA chief executive Tim Newman said the gifts are OK because it's important to have a good relationship with county employees.

Newman said the CRVA didn't know the gifts could violate county policy, and it's up to the people receiving the gifts to determine whether it's OK for them to accept.

The county's top official, Manager Harry Jones, has also used CRVA tickets to the arena suite, including eight for a Stevie Wonder concert. In 2008, Jones used the CRVA suite during the CIAA basketball tournament. Jones charged $3,463.47 for food and drinks on Newman's corporate credit card for the event.

Jones paid the CRVA back, using county funds.

When asked by the Observer about the party, Jones said it was for staff members, elected officials and community leaders but declined to say who attended.

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