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Miami to clamp down on freebie event tickets flowing to City Hall

A stack of Marlins tickets is collecting dust at Miami City Hall.

The tickets came gratis as part of the city’s contract with the ballclub. But nobody is sitting in the seats, Mayor Tomás Regalado said.

His opinion: “We shouldn’t have any tickets, period.”

For years, commissioners and other city officials have been able to dole out — and use — the freebie tickets that funnel through their offices. Some of the tickets come from city-run venues like the Knight Center and Bayfront Park. Others are negotiated into city contracts, like the Marlins agreement.

But Miami may soon take a tougher stance on complimentary tickets.

In the wake of renewed controversy, city officials are trying to make money from the free tickets guaranteed in contracts, rather than simply giving them away.

Regalado is also pushing a new city policy that would let event promoters for municipal venues distribute their freebie tickets to charities and the public on their own. The mayor, city manager and commissioners could request complimentary tickets, but only to use while conducting city business.

“We’re trying to keep it as simple as possible,” City Manager Johnny Martinez said.

The commission could take up the proposal as early as this week.

The change in direction follows a barrage of criticism earlier this year.

In February, blogger Al Crespo filed an ethics complaint against the city saying scores of elected officials and employees had failed to report free tickets received to events at city-run venues.

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust dismissed the charge because city officials had exempted some complimentary tickets from reporting requirements. But the commission urged Miami to create guidelines anyway.

Around the same time, Miami was cited in a separate report from the ethics commission. That report noted that the mayor, city manager and commissioners had received free tickets and parking to the entire Sony Ericsson tennis tournament, and that at least one commissioner had given the tickets to “friends” and “other important people.” The commissioner was not identified.

“The perception was that we were getting fringe benefits, and that the tickets were not being used to the benefit of the public,” said Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo, who has pushed for tougher standards on freebies.

The report, which also blasted Miami Beach and Homestead, concluded that elected officials should play no role in divvying up complimentary tickets. In addition, it said public officials should use free tickets only when hosting dignitaries, visitors or community groups, or participating in public introductions or presentations.

Earlier this month, Martinez drafted a complex new ticket policy that would have made the free tickets to city-run venues available to city residents and employees on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some of the tickets would have been set aside for city commissioners and administrators, and the directors of city departments and boards.

But Regalado said he had the legislation scrapped because it wasn’t tough enough.

His ideal policy?

“It’s simple,” he said. “We don’t want any tickets.”

The latest version of the proposal isn’t an outright ticket ban. It allows the mayor, manager and commissioners to request tickets for “permissible public purposes.”

But it seeks to keep the tickets from streaming through commissioners’ and top administrators’ offices.

As for the city’s Marlins tickets, the issue remains unresolved.

The city and Miami-Dade County share access to a suite at the Marlins ballpark. The city gets tickets to 40 home games. The county gets another 40. They’ll split the 81st game.

In March, the county agreed to make its share of the tickets available to nonprofits. But Martinez said the city, county and the Marlins are working on a new deal that could generate some revenue for the local governments by selling back the freebies.

“We’re trying to give them back,” Martinez said.