Top Anaheim City staff members have showered themselves with hundreds of free tickets to Angel Stadium, the Honda Center and the Convention Center over the last six months, often without an explanation as to why.
City Manager Jim Vanderpool and other department managers handed out over 700 tickets to various events including sports matches, concerts and conventions to a variety of city staff, and occasionally even to the city’s contracted vendors according to disclosures they filed with the city.
To review all the disclosures from December to May 17, click here.
These are the same staff members who oversee and negotiate leases with the very sports teams these tickets allow them to watch play professional baseball and hockey for free.
The city’s ticket distribution sits in the wake of FBI affidavits filed in court last year alleging a small group of individuals yielded outsized influence over the inner workings of City Hall – calling a private retreat in December 2020 that Vanderpool admitted he attended.
In many cases, it remains unclear who actually ends up with many of those tickets, with most of the disclosures simply citing which department received tickets and who signed off on the ticket donation.
Tickets To The Show
A Voice of OC investigation found Anaheim leaders are regularly handing out the city’s free tickets to city staff, campaign donors and political insiders.
According to city spokesman Mike Lyster, staff end up with any of the tickets that go unclaimed by local nonprofits and community organizations.
“The city ticket policy allows tickets to go to community volunteers and nonprofits and to city employees as a reward for service and to help attract and retain employees,” Lyster wrote in a statement. “There are occasions when there are no community volunteer or nonprofit takers for tickets and they are offered to employees so tickets don’t go unused.”
Neil deMause, a reporter who’s tracked stadium deals throughout the country for over 25 years, said in a phone interview last Wednesday that there should be a lot of restrictions on who the city can give the tickets to and criticized Lyster’s argument.
“Throwing your workers under the bus and saying, ‘Well, we have to keep offering them free Angels or Ducks tickets, or else this will be a terrible place to work’ is a little bit disingenuous,” he said.
He also said that there should be a community benefits agreement over the tickets with an independent board overseeing how the tickets are distributed.
“You also don’t want it to be a situation where certain community groups get preferential treatment,” deMause said.
City Manager’s and City Attorney’s Offices
City Manager Jim Vanderpool has the final say on who does and doesn’t get tickets to events under the city’s rules for managing their free tickets, giving him control over hundreds of tickets and anyone who wants them.
Neither Vanderpool nor City Attorney Rob Fabela returned Voice of OC calls to discuss their use of free tickets.
According to Lyster, city department heads have to ask Vanderpool for tickets to events that they can then pass out to staff.
In addition to tickets that were given out by department heads, disclosures show that the city manager’s office received 184 tickets in the last six months, though Lyster said some of those are passed off to other departments.
It remains unclear how much monitoring there actually is of where the tickets end up, with Lyster claiming “we monitor as tickets are requested and distributed to ensure they are equally available.”
But there’s no public listing in the disclosures of how often individual staff members receive tickets, and when asked, Lyster said it would be impossible to say how often Vanderpool used the tickets, only that he was “regularly,” at the stadium.
In addition to tickets for city staff, Vanderpool also picked people outside the city government who got tickets according to the disclosures.
According to the disclosures, Vanderpool gave tickets to several nonprofits including the Cypress College Foundation, Anaheim First Presbyterian Church and the Eli Home, a nonprofit run by former mayoral candidate Lorri Galloway,
But beyond staff perks, Vanderpool controlled tickets to other city events according to the disclosures.
Last month, Disney executives announced a new plan to expand the iconic theme park into the surrounding neighborhoods, in a move they claim will bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to the city.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and Councilmembers Carlos Leon, Natalie Meeks, Stephen Faessel were all in attendance with free tickets from Vanderpool, along with city staff from multiple departments and former councilwoman Lucille Kring, who also received a free ticket according to the disclosures.
After publication, Aitken said she never used any tickets to the Disney event on May 17 and was at a conference in Sacramento that day, with photos corroborating that, despite the disclosures listing her as receiving tickets.
Aitken claimed she was offered tickets, but never used them, despite the disclosure showing she received two passes worth $32 apiece. She also said that the disclosure is incorrect, and that she never used either of the two tickets attributed to her.
None of the other disclosures for over 1500 tickets reviewed by Voice of OC included someone turning down or not taking tickets.
Disclosures show Vanderpool gave out free tickets to the city’s launch of the OCV!BE development project according to the disclosures.
Meanwhile, City Robert Fabela gave out 28 tickets in roughly the past six months collectively worth close to $4,000 according to the disclosure.
All of the tickets Fabela listed in the disclosures went to his office, including tickets to Ducks games, Angels games and a Greta Van Fleet concert.
According to Lyster, 33 people work in the city attorney’s office.
“The city attorney does not have direct access to tickets and goes through the process to request tickets like any other department,” he said
City’s Tourism Department Treats Staff and Brings Along Vendors
Aside from the city manager’s office, the city’s Tourism and Entertainment department received more tickets than any other city department, most of which came from the department head Tom Morton according to the disclosures.
But on at least three occasions listed in the disclosures, those tickets weren’t just for city staff – they went to convention center vendors.
In April, Morton gave about $400 worth of tickets to Visit Anaheim, the advertising bureau for the resort and convention center industry, to an Angels game according to the disclosure.
And that same month, Morton disclosed giving another $400 worth of Angels tickets to Encore – the convention center’s inhouse vendor with “exclusivity for house sound in all areas,” according to the Visit Anaheim website.
Morton also hooked up Smart City Network, which provides IT and WiFI services for the convention center, with tickets to two Angel games in April – four tickets per game – which all together cost around $800 according to the disclosures.
The department, which also oversees the city’s Convention Center, has also received free tickets to multiple events at the convention center according to the disclosures.
For Wondercon, a comic book and sci-fi film convention, Morton gave staff 26 tickets valued at over $3,000 when the convention came to Anaheim according to the disclosure.
He also gave $1,000 worth of Wondercon tickets to Aramark – a contracted food provider for the city’s convention center according to the disclosures.
On another occasion, Morton disclosed giving away 12 free tickets to Tuner Evolution, a car show that was set up at the city’s convention center.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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