Phoenix Councilman Claude Mattox, Other Public Officials Enjoying Concerts, Suns Games in Arena Suite; Incomplete Records Mask How Often
Phoenix officials have not kept track of who's been kicking back in the city-owned suite at the U.S. Airways Center watching Phoenix Suns games or rocking out to legends like Elton John.
But they're supposed to, according to their own policy.
The shoddy record-keeping, which goes back to at least 2005, leaves the suite open to abuse, and it allows elected officials to attend events while keeping their names off the books.
Councilman Claude Mattox, a Phoenix mayoral hopeful, says he attended at least three concerts, but his name only appears once on the list Phoenix released to New Times.
Mattox says he got the Billy Joel/Elton John tickets through the city, but paid for them out of his own pocket and didn't sit in the suite for that concert. City records, however, have him listed as a recipient of a seat in the box, along with former Economic Development Director Don Maxwell and a business prospect from Washington, D.C.
There could have been other concerts -- Eric Clapton, The Police, The Eagles. But Mattox says that he's attended so many concerts over the years, he can't remember whether he was in the city suite for the performances or whether he paid for the tickets.
Phoenix owns the U.S. Airways Center and has an operating agreement with the Phoenix Suns for control of one of the suites in the venue. The Community and Economic Development Department (CED) is responsible for the 12-seat suite, which is primarily intended to foster economic development by wooing corporate executives and others who might do business with Phoenix.
Mattox says he only accepts suite tickets free of charge if he's invited by Phoenix economic development officials.
"The bottom line is that when the economic development department hosts individuals [in the suite], they like to have elected officials there," Mattox says. "It gives them some face time with an elected official."
According to city records, there is rarely an elected official present when economic development officials are hosting a delegation of business leaders. They may not be on the guest list, but it is clear that they are there.
Councilwoman Peggy Neely, who is exploring the idea of running for Phoenix mayor, previously told New Times that she attended an event in the box, but her name is also absent from the city records.
Former Councilman Greg Stanton, a mayoral candidate, says he took a different approach to the invites he received during his time on the council.
"I was offered tickets in the past, but I made it clear early on that I didn't think it was right," he tells New Times. "The city should sell back the tickets to bring in much-needed revenue for the city and eliminate a culture of entitlement that too often exists."
Selling the suite to other organizations is an option Phoenix has. And given that city officials are pinching pennies to overcome a $59 million budget shortfall, why wouldn't they relish the opportunity to raise extra city revenue?
In the past five years, the city sold the suite 35 times and added $77,000 to the city's budget.
It may not seem like a lot of money, but the city's Innovation and Efficiency Task Force found more than $10 million in savings last year by doing things like eliminating paper pay stubs -- a savings of $85,000.
When the Phoenix Suns made the NBA playoff games in 2006, the suite was in high demand. Yet the city chose to hang on to the tickets.
Records show that City Manager David Cavazos was in the box for three of the playoff games with various banks reps and business prospects. In all, he attended 16 events in the past five years -- four playoff games altogether, including a game on May 23, 2010.
Cavazos was unavailable for comment on Monday.
Several calls to the city's economic development department for further explanation have gone unanswered, but Sina Matthes, a city spokeswoman, did acknowledge that information is missing from city records.
CED is responsible for the suite, and according to the city's policy, the department is supposed to keep a record of the name, business affiliation and job title of each guest taking advantage it.
"Staff has been instructed not to release tickets for any event until this information is provided," the city policy reads.
And they knew there was a public interest in maintaining good records because their own policy goes on to say: "All guests should be advised that if requested by the media, their names and affiliations will be provided and they should assume that this will occur."
However, a majority of the records log only generic notes such as "City Manager's Office," "guest" or "Youth Activity."
Matthes said the department has reviewed its policy, and "there have been no similar situations" since January.
That's nearly four consecutive months that Phoenix, often touted as the "best run city in the country", has been able to track the names of 12 individuals using the suite.
Councilman Michael Johnson said the suite serves a purpose in wooing decision-makers who host national conferences to choose Phoenix.
He used the suite during a Suns game in 2006 to host Bishop Jerry Maynard and other religious leaders from across the country, and in 2009, he also invited members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, also known as the Black Press of America, to a Suns game in the suite.
"We want to use the box to enhance their experience in Phoenix and talk to them about doing more business with the city," says Johnson. "Those conferences bring in room nights and sales taxes. What we get by using the suite far surpasses what we would get from selling it."
Records show that in the past five years, Phoenix officials have used the suite for fewer than 90 of the 468 available events, or about 18 percent of the time.
It isn't always for economic development.
In 2005, Tom Simplot treated his office staff to Gwen Stefani concert to thank them for participating in a community event. Simplot and various real estate and developers caught the Michael Buble concert in 2010.
Tickets to most of the events, including Phoenix Mercury and Arizona Rattlers games and other entertainment shows, went to various youth activities.
Stanton tells New Times that Phoenix should move past the old ways of trying to harness economic development.
"I want to sell Phoenix based on its quality of life, the quality of education that I'm advocating for, and for the vibrant arts and culture we have here, not because of back-slapping that might occur at a sporting event or rock concert."
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