Free sport event tickets for Oakland city officials could be a thing of the past

Oakland’s Public Ethics Commission is looking at ways to revise how free sports tickets are distributed and used by elected officials, and at least one councilmember wants to do away with the perk.

According to a recent draft report on the ethical and transparent distribution of tickets, Oakland City Officials receive thousands of free tickets to games every year. As part of a deal with the Warriors, the Oakland A’s, and the Raider, the city gets 20 luxury suite tickets to Oracle and 18 luxury suite tickets to the Coliseum.

Many of the tickets go unused, by how the tickets are received, distributed, and reported is under review by the Public Ethics Commission.

Councilmember Dan Kalb said the free ticket process needs to be transparent.

“I would say the system today is not perfect to say the least and the oversight is almost non-existent,” Kalb said.

Elected officials can use free tickets that are not considered gifts, as long as they follow city policy and report it properly. However, the draft report found, among other things, that ticket distribution from 2015 to 2016 was poorly managed, there were ethical concerns, and there were problems with officials failing to report how tickets were used.

Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan has a different solution.

“Let's just not have the tickets given to us in the first place then we don't have to worry whether people are giving them out the right way and we can put that money back to serve public needs,” she said.

Kaplan is proposing Oakland eliminate the free ticket policy by selling the tickets instead. She said the money could possibly be used to help the homeless.

“We could bring in about $400,000 per year, money that we could spend to serve the public,” Kaplan added.

The idea to do away with the practice is supported by Councilmember Abel Guillen who released a statement to KTVU that reads in part:

“The Warriors are leaving town and the Raiders' expressed desire to leave behind millions of dollars in outstanding debt for the public, I think these suites should be returned to the market to help pay down the outstanding debt service. The process of ticket distribution and reporting is too cumbersome, and our staff time should be better spent on dealing with community issues rather than handing out free tickets.”

But if the city does keep getting free tickets, the draft report recommends a staff person be named a “ticket administrator” to receive, control, and track them. 

Kalb wants to go a step further and suggested placing restrictions on contributions to make sure donors do not receive a lot of tickets.

“I want to respect the Ethics Commissions research and recommendations what they're promoting and recommending, because they are the agency with the expertise and knows what is best for the city,” he said.

The Ethics Commission is seeking feedback from the public and city officials on the draft report. It will be reviewed on Monday, March 6.

Last year, the commission opened an investigation into the use of tickets by elected officials. The investigation remains open.