Policy without procedure: Wilmington’s confusion about VIP tickets led to the waste of taxpayer money

Policy without procedure: Wilmington’s confusion on VIP tickets led to the waste of taxpayer money
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 5:34 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington’s City Council is once again considering the purchase of VIP tickets at the Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park from Live Nation. However, at least one council member has voiced his concerns and objections to the purchase, and the subsequent government waste of taxpayer money.

“My main concern [is] that the unused tickets were going to be wasted, and that it would be a complete waste of taxpayer money — if we weren’t able to sell them back to Live Nation, and then recirculate them and recoup the taxpayer monies,” Luke Waddell said.

When Wilmington’s City Council first approved the purchase of VIP tickets at the Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park from Live Nation they also approved an ordinance that would ensure none of the tickets would go to waste.

So far, that’s what has happened. None of the tickets from the first season of the park were used or resold, and this year, it’s been a similar story.

However, City staff has assured City Council the problems would be rectified if they do go forward with the renewal of the seats.

“They assured me that we’ll — we will have a procedure in place that will successfully sell unused tickets back. And we’ll have a procedure in place for a timeline of when these tickets are utilized, and how they’re then put back into the system once they, once we come to the decision that they’re not going to be [used],” Waddell said.

A policy without procedure

It appears there has been a breakdown in communication since the implementation of Wilmington’s ticket policy.

City Manager Tony Caudle made a statement at a budget workshop that implies the City only recently found out there were tickets to be resold.

“We have instituted a makeshift policy this year as a result of the criticism and as a result of now knowing that we have tickets that are available and can be turned back in for resale,” he said during a budget discussion with City Council.

It’s not clear what that ‘makeshift policy’ is, how it is different than the official policy City Council approved nearly a year ago. Or why, despite the clear language of that policy, staff would need to create a new policy or wait until there was criticism to start doing what City Council directed. It’s also unclear what was meant by the statement regarding the City now knowing there are tickets that can be resold, especially since Mayor Bill Saffo confirmed Caudle’s role in reselling unused tickets when the policy was adopted last year.

“Any unused tickets will be resold either through Live Nation or otherwise as allowed by state law. Mr. Caudle I guess you would notify them that nobody is going to be using the box for this particular concert and they can resell the tickets for us,” Saffo said.

A phone call to Caudle’s office was turned away, and directed to the City’s communications office. However, the communications office was not able to speak for Caudle, or explain his statement or the possibility that the City was only recently made aware of the tickets that they purchased last year.

A Wilmington spokesperson did provide a statement on the challenges and why the policy was not implemented and how the City plans to address these issues in the future.

“Despite having an adopted policy for the tickets, the city did not have a clear procedure to implement it. The city is actively remedying that by working closely with Live Nation to create a streamlined process that will ensure no ticket goes un-used. We expect the process to be in place soon. The city remains committed to advancing economic development and Riverfront Park has established itself as a critical asset to Wilmington’s cultural vibrancy, which will help job creation, job retention, and economic diversification,” that statement read.

Despite the assurances, Waddell says he still thinks that money should not be spent on these seats, but agrees that economic development is crucial for the city.

“Personally I’d like to see it removed, I don’t think we’re going to have to vote to get that done, and again I do see the benefits to it ultimately if it’s utilized properly,” he said.

City Council’s new budget will have to be approved before July 1, when the new fiscal year starts, once it is, that will determine whether or not the City continues with the program, or scraps it altogether.

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