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Report questions free Jazz Fest tickets for city officials

December 6, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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.

“As always, the festival works closely with the city to comply with all municipal policies and regulations and will follow any forthcoming procedural recommendations,” it said in a statement.

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 against lending or donating government property to people, associations or corporations.

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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