Of­fi­cial ques­tions ethics of free Jazz Fest tick­ets

The Sun Herald - - News -

NEW OR­LEANS

Hun­dreds of free tick­ets to the New Or­leans Jazz and Her­itage Fes­ti­val were given to of­fi­cials in city de­part­ments last year in a pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tion of state ethics law, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Thurs­day by the city’s In­spec­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice.

The re­port es­ti­mated that be­tween 284 and 424 tick­ets were given away, mean­ing the to­tal value could be as high as $33,920.

Ann McDon­ald, the di­rec­tor of the New Or­leans Parks and Park­ways Depart­ment, told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that de­part­ments have re­ceived free tick­ets to the fes­ti­val since 1988, when she started in city gov­ern­ment, and that the tick­ets were for city em­ploy­ees’ per­sonal use, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The re­port noted that a ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees in­ter­viewed knew they could not ac­cept such free tick­ets.

“The ma­jor­ity of em­ploy­ees said that they ei­ther did not use the tick­ets at all or used the tick­ets to en­ter the Jazz Fes­ti­val to con­duct of­fi­cial City busi­ness in 2017,” the re­port said.

The re­port fo­cused on tick­ets handed out in 2017, the last full year of for­mer Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. It quotes top of­fi­cials in Lan­drieu’s ad­min­is­tra­tion as say­ing that they told at least some de­part­ments not to ac­cept the tick­ets.

The re­port rec­om­mended that the city end the free-ticket prac­tice and de­velop a cre­den­tial­ing process for work­ers with of­fi­cial city busi­ness at the fes­ti­val.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s spokesman, Beau Tid­well, said in a state­ment that the re­port was about events from be­fore she took of­fice in May and that “the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion is com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that ap­pro­pri­ate poli­cies are in place.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed the tick­ets were han­dled in a va­ri­ety of ways.

At least one, As­sis­tant Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Works Allen Yrle, said he threw the tick­ets away.

Fire chief Tim McCon­nell said he re­ceived tick­ets that were used by peo­ple in his depart­ment who worked the fes­ti­val. How­ever, he also said he gave tick­ets to a mem­ber of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that per­forms at the fes­ti­val who would not have other­wise been able to have fam­ily mem­bers at­tend.

The fes­ti­val’s press of­fice said or­ga­niz­ers were re­view­ing the re­port.

The re­port also said the city should stop the prac­tice of lend­ing city prop­erty to the fes­ti­val, cit­ing a loan of three gaze­bos to the fes­ti­val that may vi­o­late a state con­sti­tu­tional pro­hi­bi­tion.

Yrle told the in­ves­ti­ga­tors the fes­ti­val does not re­im­burse the city for work such as erect­ing signs and al­ter­ing traf­fic pat­terns.

“I am ap­palled at the amount of work we do for Jazz Fest” with­out com­pen­sa­tion, Yrle is quoted as say­ing in the re­port.

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