PASADENA — Last season's Super Bowl may be best remembered here not so much for its gridiron action as for fancy footwork by local officials over 1,200 game tickets they were allowed to buy at the face value of $75 each.
"Elitist," said Nina Cash, an unsuccessful candidate in March for the Board of Directors and a frequent critic of the board.
"Shades of old Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago," resident R. W. Slocum wrote to a local newspaper.
"Politicians 1,200 to taxpayers zip," said KCBS-TV commentator Tom Van Amburg.
There will be no Super Bowl in town this season, but officials are facing the same situation with the Rose Bowl game.
Following a tradition dating to the 1930s, the city manager and the seven members of the Board of Directors will each be allowed to buy 100 Rose Bowl tickets at the face value of $38 to resell or give to friends, business associates or political supporters. Another 400 tickets have been distributed among volunteers, city agencies, such as the Police, Planning and Public Works departments, and others.
Another 2,100 tickets for $28-grandstand seats for the Rose Parade will be given to local officials, including 150 for Mayor John Crowley, 120 for each member of the Board of Directors, 100 for City Manager Don McIntyre and two each for volunteers on the various city boards and commissions.
Board members can also receive a free VIP package that gives them four parade tickets, four game tickets and four invitations to a guest luncheon.
The tradition has been perennially attacked as unfair, inappropriate and a potential conflict of interest for local politicians who vote on issues concerning the Rose Bowl.
Although most of the seven board members have expressed concerns about the practice, none is willing to lead an effort to abolish the privilege.
"If anyone wants to pick up the lance, they have my full support," said Director Rick Cole, who has been one of the loudest critics of the practice. But he added: "I do not relish being set at odds with my colleagues. You have to pick your battles."
Despite his reluctance, Cole, along with Director William Paparian, has called for a discussion of the issue at the board's meeting Monday.
While it appears too late to abolish the practice this year, several board members have indicated their willingness to restrict tickets to Pasadena residents, require an accounting of who receives the tickets and insist that buyers not resell the tickets for a profit.
The directors hope that such changes would avoid repeating their embarrassment during the Super Bowl when some tickets sold to board members for $75 were resold without their knowledge for several times the face value.
At the time, tickets were going for as much as $1,500 on the open market.
"I have no more stomach for any more controversy on this issue," said Cole, who confirmed that some of the resold tickets were originally his. "The whole process should be changed so it doesn't bring criticism on the city.'
Ideas on replacing the current system include holding a citywide lottery for the tickets, donating the tickets to a charitable organization and using them to reward volunteers and outstanding students and athletes.
None of these ideas has won overwhelming support from the board, but Directors Cole, Paparian, Jess Hughston and Kathryn Nack all support at least reducing the number of tickets for board members to fewer than 10 each.
Director William Thomson said he had no problem with allowing directors to buy 100 tickets, but he favors restricting the tickets to those who live and work in Pasadena and requiring that they do not resell the tickets.
Only Crowley and Director Loretta Thompson-Glickman support leaving the system intact. Thompson-Glickman, who said she sold about one-fourth of her Super Bowl tickets to business acquaintances, did not return several phone calls to her office, but she has previously stated that she has no problem with the way tickets are handled.
As for the coming Rose Bowl, Cole said he plans to hold a lottery among residents in his district for his 100 tickets.
Paparian and Thomson say they intend to sell their tickets to residents in their districts on a first-come, first-served basis.
The other directors plan to sell their tickets to friends, relatives, business acquaintances, political supporters and volunteers.
The tradition of selling 100 tickets each to local officials began at least five decades ago, according to Lathrop K. Leishman, whose involvement with the Rose Bowl dates to the first game in 1922.
Leishman said the intent was not to allow more residents to attend or to reward volunteers, but to increase ticket sales at a time when the bowl was rarely sold out.
"It was a case of generating some interest," he said. "If I were a city director, I wouldn't take any tickets. I don't buy any except for my family, and that's it."