Under the current system, officials pay the city for their tickets. They can keep some tickets and sell the remainder at face value to friends, relatives, political supporters or business associates.
The money paid by the directors goes to the Finance Department, which writes one check for all 1,200 tickets to the Tournament of Roses Assn., said Barbara Barrett, the city administrator in charge of the Rose Bowl.
There is no policy governing the distribution of the tickets.
Roughly 200 go to city department heads, who usually distribute them to employees through a lottery. There is also no policy governing this distribution.
Although no board member is required to buy tickets, Barrett said, "no one has ever refused them."
Of the 100,932 tickets to the game, 53,718 go to the Pac-10, 22,293 to the Big 10, 21,421 to the Tournament of Roses Assn., and 3,500 are sold to the public through a lottery, said Tournament of Roses Assn. spokesman Bill Flinn.
Out of the association's allotment, 958 tickets go to the media, with the biggest buyers being NBC, which broadcasts the game, with 300 tickets and the Pasadena Star-News with 100, Flinn said.
Of the four major college bowl games in the country, the Rose Bowl and the Orange Bowl in Miami are the only two that provide large numbers of tickets to city officials.
The Orange Bowl Committee in Miami allocates only 12 tickets for officials, including members of the City Council and the Dade County (Fla.) Board of Supervisors, but allows them to buy as many tickets as they want because of the difficulty in selling out the game.
"Three out of the last five games haven't sold out," said Steve Hatchell, executive director of the Orange Bowl Committee. "We want people to sell the Orange Bowl for us."
Unlike the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl sells out every year, and a ticket becomes a precious commodity that can sell for as much as $300 on the open market.
Organizers of the two other major bowls--the Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl--say they limit local officials to purchasing about 10 tickets each at face value.
'Are You Kidding?'
"A hundred tickets?" asked Mickey Holmes, executive director of the Sugar Bowl. "Are you kidding?"
The ticket issue has been a sticky one for the board. Before the March election, it became a campaign issue symbolizing what some claimed was the board's club-like and petty nature.
Even several board members agree that the practice unfairly gives them a privilege that most residents do not have.
"I've always viewed it as a kind of inequity," said Hughston. "I get something because of my position that others do not get."
Cole added: "It shouldn't be a personal privilege, but a community privilege."
The practice has also created an unsavory perception that board members are buying influence, paying off political favors or being paid off by the Tournament of Roses Assn. for political favors, Paparian said.
"The appearance of impropriety can be just as bad as any actual impropriety," he said. "Some can see it as a means of showing favoritism and potentially making money."
While there is no monetary gain for board members, Paparian said there could be a conflict of interest since the board often votes on issues concerning the Rose Bowl or the Tournament of Roses Assn.
Board members have also complained that the practice is a time-consuming annoyance that can be more trouble than it is worth.
"It's a nuisance," said Nack, adding that collecting money and trying to avoid offending anyone by giving them bad seats is a major headache. "I don't have any problem in cutting down the number of tickets, and I think everyone would be glad we did it."
But despite the complaints, some board members say there are benefits.
Nack said the tickets allow more residents to attend a major hometown event, although there is no written requirement that the tickets go to residents.
Reward for Volunteers
Nack added that the tickets let the directors reward volunteers who work on various boards and commissions.
Crowley agreed that the tickets allow directors to show appreciation to those who have worked hard for the city, and he saw no reason to change a long-standing practice.
After January's Super Bowl, a majority of the board supported a change but took no action to avoid doing something "off the top of our heads," said then-Director Jo Heckman.
But Cole said buying Rose Bowl tickets raised the same questions, and he urged the board to resolve the issue.
More cynical watchers of city politics say the board will eventually fall victim to the political inertia that has protected the tradition for five decades.
"They're just plain, old, out-and-out wimps," said Cash, who made the Super Bowl tickets an issue in her unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the board. "Until there is another uproar, things will go on the same way."