Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

No Such Thing as a Free Ticket

By Judy Nadler

Because hockey was her favorite sport, Councilwoman Alexandra Evers was thrilled to take her colleague Don Phillips up on his offer to attend the All-Star game which was being played in their city. Phillips indicated he had a free, extra ticket, and would meet her at the sports arena the night of the game.

When she arrived, she saw Phillips with Marc Eyre, president of the local cable franchise. She assumed they had bumped into each other in the lobby and was surprised when she realized she was joining Eyre in the cable company's box along with Phillips, his family, and other friends. Because the city was beginning to negotiate a new cable contract she felt especially uncomfortable when the executive sat next to her. In an attempt to be clear that this was a social event, not an opportunity to talk business, the councilwoman announced to both her colleague and to Eyre that she had absolutely no plans to talk about the cable contract or any other issues associated with the city. Even with that said, she found herself in the middle of a wide-ranging discussion of the future of the telecommunications industry that skirted on the city's expansion into new areas of service.

At the end of the game she hurried home and wrote a letter to Eyre, asking for the cost of the ticket so that she could reimburse the company, and copied her colleague. Both responded that there was no cost - it was a free ticket that was part of the season privileges purchased by the cable company. She felt betrayed by her colleague for setting her up and frustrated that her attempts to pay for the ticket were thwarted.

Questions: Should Councilwoman Evers have left the game as soon as she found out where she was sitting?
How should she now proceed?

This case was developed by Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and former mayor of the city of Santa Clara, Calif. The story is fictional, but the case represents a typical dilemma confronted by elected officials.

July 2006


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