When the CIAA holds its men’s and women’s basketball championship games at the Spectrum Center uptown Saturday night, some Charlotte City Council members will be there for free – and most Mecklenburg County commissioners won’t.
What’s going on? The city and the county each give more than $250,000 to the CIAA per year. Many City Council members then take free tickets from the CIAA. County commissioners, with a stricter ethics policy, mostly don’t.
Now, some county commissioners want to loosen their policy. They shouldn’t; instead, City Council members should tighten theirs.
The public already distrusts politicians. That’s only made worse by elected officials committing taxpayer money to an event and then accepting free tickets to it. It gives politicians perks the general public doesn’t get, and can create the perception of improper influence.
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The county’s ethics policy explicitly forbids commissioners from taking free tickets to events that the county supports financially. The city’s ethics policy, in contrast, makes an explicit exception to its ban on gifts to allow tickets for an event “where the official is clearly representing the City and where the City has a legitimate purpose in being represented at the event.” City Attorney Bob Hagemann says he considers the CIAA tournament as fitting that description.
In emails this week, commissioners Ella Scarborough, Vilma Leake and George Dunlap each indicated the county’s ethics policy is too strict and should be reviewed. They argue that they need to be able to represent the county in their official capacity at events like the CIAA tournament.
We understand if public officials – especially the mayor and the commissioners chairperson – are participating in some kind of public ceremony at the tournament. That is fulfilling one’s job description.
But sitting in a luxury suite, having a drink and enjoying the game? Pay for your ticket yourself and avoid the appearance of special interest influence.