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Ethics Being Challenged Over Free Tickets

Updated: Friday, August 2 2013, 09:22 PM EDT
Questions about ethics at Baltimore's City Hall are back.

This time, over tickets to big-name concerts given to top city officials, like the mayor.

But little is known about the body that decides if it's OK for elected officials to get Jay-Z tickets. 

In
a small back room on the 6th floor of City Hall, big decisions are made
about what city officials and employees can and can't do.

There
are laws meant to keep conflicts of interest from affecting how the city
does business and prevent and abuse of tax dollars.

Today, the
debate is over tickets - free passes to Jay-Z and Beyonce concerts -
given to the mayor and council members by a contractor running the
city-owned 1st Mariner Arena.

The question today - is OK for top
city officials to accept free tickets to sold out concerts, and not let
anyone know about? It's a debate that goes to the heart of what the
ethics board and the law that governs it.

In the case of the
tickets, the board debates if the freebies constitute a gift from a firm
doing business with the city, even though the mayor says they are
simply a perk that comes with the office.

"I think when your
outlet and other outlets are focusing on practice that's been going on
since '88 it tells me one thing - that crime is gone down," said Mayor
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

But the ethics board has doubts, and
has finally decided to investigate over some objections. It's the
process of enforcing the city ethics code that receives little scrutiny
until a big ticket issue like this.

But is the ethics board doing
it's job?  Is the process that is supposed to weed out conflicts of 
interest working? Lu Peirson, head of ethics board, says it is, in part.

One
problem is the 1,900 city employees who fill out these forms make lots
of mistakes "This summer we undertook a review of every form," said
Peirson. More than half the forms didn't even have the correct date.

And
that's not the only issue.  Vital information city employees need to
disclose conflicts, like an official list of companies doing business
with the city, is hard to come by.

"We have had a very difficult
time and have be unable, to this date, to obtain a complete and accurate
list of who does business with the city," said Peirson.

There is even a lack of clarity  as to who is in fact required to fill out the form in the first place.

"We
have had difficulty finding information from the mayor's office about
who is actually required to fill out this form," said Peirson.

These are issues that don't surprise some city officials, who have tried to overhaul a process they say is too cumbersome

It's a process she says, the board intends to fix.

The mayor's office released a statement today reaffirming her commitment to the ethics board. Ethics Being Challenged Over Free Tickets


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