Anaheim’s city council majority usually wields its power against dissenting members with little mercy on an array of disputes–even on how meetings are to run. It came, then, as a telling reprieve last week when all the back-and-forth passive aggressive snide got set aside in the name of uniting around privileges afforded council members in the form of free tickets to events at the Honda Center and Angel Stadium that they can behest to themselves or others.
In August, the Weekly‘s “Ticket Masters” cover story exposé unveiled a political patronage system where council members rewarded their friends, allies and campaign contributors with access to city suites for sports and entertainment events at both venues. Longtime activist Duane Roberts challenged the council to put a discussion of the policy on the agenda at a council meeting that month.
Councilman Jose F. Moreno later responded by asking to put the review on a future agenda to “clarify” matters.
Mayor Harry Sidhu didn’t table discussion on the issue item without a vote when it finally arose last week. It became clear early on that no contentious debate would take place. “Certainly, politics may always be at play,” said Moreno, “but I feel pretty confident with the policy that we have.”
To whit, Ticket Masters reviewed a year’s worth of ticket disclosure forms between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019 and found, in part, the following:
- Members of Anaheim First have received $33,630 in tickets to events, many from the same council members who voted to donate $250,000 to the group to contract a city-wide survey.
- Two council members who’ve reported gifts received from Disney have, in turn, provided the husband of Carrie Nocella, a Disney lobbyist, with free tickets to Angels games.
- More than half of all tickets handed out by council members are to “attract or reward” volunteer service. Ernesto Medrano, a building trades labor boss who’s a member of Anaheim First, collected 36 tickets worth about $7,000 in one year alone under that exception!
- Matt Cunningham, the hack behind Anaheim Blog, has received tickets over the years from the same council members he has written favorably of, including mayor Harry Sidhu.
- Progressive Democrat Jose F. Moreno, like others on the dais, has channeled tickets back to people who’ve contributed to his election campaigns.
After “Ticket Masters,” Anaheim First members continued receiving free suite tickets to Angels games. Councilman Jordan Brandman gave Elton John concert tickets at the Honda Center in September to lobbyist (and former employer) Peter Mitchell, not by name but under the nonprofit exception afforded to the Anaheim Police Association. The city even violated its own policy by not posting disclosure forms within 30 days of events that tickets were distributed to this summer.
But all of that was much ado about nada at last week’s meeting. Instead, the real issue for council members was what to do with leftover scraps. “Some tickets may go unused,” said Moreno. “I think it’s a shame that we have these tickets and sometimes they don’t get used. These are the people’s tickets. It’s their stadium, their venue. We get the privilege of being able to be the first among equals, as they say, to utilize the tickets.”
The councilman suggested finding a way to post unused tickets for any resident to try and claim. Councilwoman Lucille Kring offered her practice of giving leftover tickets to staff through the ticket administrator. Brandman thought that a “gosh darn good idea” and added a suggestion of using Nextdoor to find ticket takers.
Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who took 17 event tickets under his name during his first few months in office, stayed conspicuously silent.
But curious ticket filings remain unexplained. On February 5, 2016, former councilwoman Kris Murray gave four Anaheim Ducks tickets to Willdan Group, a corporation headquartered in Anaheim that she listed on past Statement of Economic Interest forms as a source of substantial income while serving council. Willdan appeared under the filing section usually reserved for non-profit groups but the ticket disclosure form listed the volunteer exception usually reserved for individuals.
“Last that I heard, the Willdan Group is a for-profit company whose stock is publicly traded on NASDAQ exchange,” says Roberts. “It earned about $272 million in revenue in 2018. Murray’s questionable 802 filings are symptomatic of how many members of the council see tickets–like candy to be freely given away to their wealthy friends.”
Neither Murray nor the city returned requests for comment by press time.
Mark Richard Daniels, an Anaheim Cultural Heritage Commissioner, tells the Weekly that he saw Kring at a city suite for the Anaheim Ducks playoff game against the San Jose Sharks on April 14 last year. Former councilman James Vanderbilt had given him tickets to attend the same game, he says.
Only, when the Weekly reviewed the city’s website, ticket disclosures from the entire month of April 2018 are unavailable–not only in an apparent violation of the city’s 30-day policy but well after the Fair Political Practices Commission’s more generous 45-day benchmark.
It seems that when it comes to Anaheim’s ticket policy, there’s more to talk about than just how to discard ticket scraps after political friends, allies and contributors get first dibs. But that’d entail a willingness by council members to check their privileges–and then do something about them.
“It doesn’t matter how much evidence there is showing that the ticket system is being widely abused,” says Roberts. “Nobody is going to openly admit they gave thousands of dollars worth of tickets to their wealthy friends and campaign supporters.”