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Dade Ethics Commission Approves "Freebie" Tickets Guidelines

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When a big event comes to town, free tickets are given to county and city officials for senior citizens, kids and people in need.

However, a recent report by Miami-Dade's Commission on Ethics and Public Trust found that politicians who receive the complimentary tickets often dole them out to family, friends and 'important people'.

The draft report recommended that elected officials be removed from the distribution process entirely so tickets are not handed out as gifts or to curry favor, but instead go to needy constituents as 'public benefits'.

"Many times they do curry favor by giving these tickets to people who could be voters, or campaign donations down the line," said ethics commissioner Miriam Ramos.

On Thursday the ethics commission held a public discussion and approved new guidelines on how tickets would be distributed.

The tickets are usually negotiated into the contract when events use public facilities or public subsidies. The practice has gone on for years with little outside scrutiny. But last October the ethics commission began looking into it after Miami Beach officials withheld a $15 million reimbursement grant from the New World Symphony in an attempt gain free tickets to performances at the New World Center.

An investigation by the State Attorney's Office found that while the city may have broken the law by demanding the tickets as part of a public benefits package in return for the investment, it would be difficult to prove in court because of their longstanding policy of negotiating tickets from companies that use city facilities.

Representatives of Miami Beach told commissioners that the situation was a departure from normal policies and objected to some of the wording in the report. Miami Beach City Attorney Jose Smith said officials will meet to discuss revising the practice.

The commission report concluded there is "no good reason why event tickets received by a municipality through a contractual 'public benefits' clause should pass through the hands of elected officials."

The commission now recommends that tickets be distributed to the public by an "objective, non-political mechanism," that would deny elected officials the "unfair advantage of utilizing these tickets as an extension of their self-promotional or campaign activities."

It also notes that politicians often attend events in what they call an official capacity, but "mere, passive attendance" should not be considered as an "official function" and should be reported as a gift, under appropriate disclosure laws.

"We hope that local governments will take these recommendations seriously and expeditiously implement changes in accordance with this report," said COE Executive Director Joseph Centorino, who promised the COE staff will closely examine ticket distributions and investigate any instance where is appears that "public benefits" are exploited.


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