Dec 19, 2022 - Politics

Phoenix council members used city suite to watch NBA Finals, concerts

Four headshots combined.

(Clockwise) Council members Yassamin Ansari, Carlos Garcia, Laura Pastor and Betty Guardado. Photos: Courtesy of City of Phoenix

Four city council members attended Suns games or concerts using a city suite that is supposed to be for community and economic development purposes, according to records obtained by Axios Phoenix.

  • According to city policy, the suite is to be used to promote the city, host distinguished guests and enhance relationships with public agencies.
  • It can also be used for employee awards programs or activities for children or adults with developmental disabilities.

Why it matters: Ethics experts tell us that council members taking advantage of perks like this can create the perception that the city is misusing a public resource for private benefit, which diminishes trust between elected officials and constituents.

  • "The more the public comes to perceive that there is or appears to be some misuse of their public position … the more likely they are to lose their confidence and trust in not only these individuals, but more broadly the city government of Phoenix," senior scholar in government ethics for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics John Pelissero tells us.

How it works: The city owns Footprint Center, but the Phoenix Suns organization manages it.

  • As part of the deal, the Suns provide the city with a suite to most events.
  • It comes with 12 tickets, but an additional 10 can be purchased from the Suns at face value — prices vary depending on the event.
  • City officials can spend up to $250 on food and beverage per event, but sometimes the tab and the cost of the extra tickets are picked up by a guest in the suite, often a company or agency that does business in the city.

What we found: Council members Laura Pastor, Carlos Garcia, Betty Guardado and Yassamin Ansari attended events in the city suite in the past two years, sometimes bringing family members or friends with them.

  • Pastor attended four Suns playoff games in 2021, including two Finals games, and one playoff game in 2022.
  • Garcia went to two playoff games in both 2021 and 2022, in addition to the Banda MS concert.
  • Guardado went to one playoff game in 2021, two in 2022 and the Banda MS concert.
  • Ansari went to one Finals game in 2021.

Of note: A few council staffers also used the suite, sometimes without their bosses present.

  • Garcia's chief of staff Adriana Garcia Maximiliano and Ansari's policy director Aaron Kane went to the Bad Bunny concert. No council members attended.
  • Guardado's chief of staff Andrew Wunder went to a Finals game on his own.

What they're saying: The council members and council staffers who attended events did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

  • According to city policy, council members and guest attendance has to be approved by the economic development director Chris Mackay or deputy city manager Ginger Spencer. Neither would speak to us about council members using the suite.
  • Their boss, City Manager Jeff Barton, also refused an interview.

In a statement the city said council members and staff are allowed to serve as hosts in the suite for "uses such as economic development and retention and/or promotion of the city."

  • Communications director Dan Wilson said the economic development department "will frequently ask" council members to host businesses or community groups.
  • He said council members are permitted to bring a guest for free.

The other side: Mayor Kate Gallego and council members Jim Waring, Deb Stark, Sal DiCiccio and Ann O'Brien say they have never attended an event in the suite, nor have they asked to, or been asked to attend.

  • "There's got to be a better use [than council members]," Stark told us, suggesting the city give it to a nonprofit or use it for youth or senior events instead.

The bottom line: Government officials are expected to adhere to a strict code of professional ethics, said Pat Shields, who serves on the ethics committee of the American Society for Public Administration.

  • "Your actions should show that you put the public interest above the private interest. Your benefit should be second to the public interest in your official capacity."

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