Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Please indulge me with a slightly off-topic post this week. Thanks.
Occasionally I receive a freebie from a restaurant. It’s a practice that happens all the time to food writers everywhere. I never, ever ask for freebies nor do I expect them. Quite frankly, I feel uncomfortable accepting them. I understand that restaurant owners and PR firms want to generate buzz. But to me, I’m happy to promote newly opened and locally owned restaurants. It’s what I do here in my Foodie Friday column.
But freebies happen and I do accept them from time to time. I also have a clear disclosure policy on my about page. If I review a restaurant that gave me a freebie, I mention what I received at the bottom of the review. It would be easy not to mention this, so why do it? Because my reputation is worth more to me than any freebies I might receive. Not that I pretend to have a stellar culinary reputation or anything, it’s just the right thing to do.
That’s why I was flabbergasted to read the AJC’s column yesterday about Alpharetta council members taking taxpayer-purchased concert tickets without disclosure. Surely a blogger who gets a free beer and appetizer wouldn’t have a more open disclosure policy than elected officials?
If you’re not familiar with the issue… The Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased concert tickets at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater using tax dollars. Some of those tickets were given to Alpharetta’s mayor, city council members and staff without disclosure. Records pertaining to these gifts were destroyed. I encourage you to read the AJC’s article in its entirety.
The AJC names many current and some past council members. I believe nearly every member of this body was involved to some degree or another. I reached out via email to those the AJC didn’t name. One former council member would not tell me how many free tickets he received. However, he didn’t hesitate to call the AJC’s piece “sensationalism.”
Alpharetta prides itself on its “city of ethics” designation. Alpharetta is also very mindful of its reputation, particularly how it might be used to attract businesses and visitors. An issue like this does not need to be handled with claims of media sensationalism. Instead I think the city and CVB should tackle this head-on by following these steps:
- Attempt to reconstruct a list of gifts. The AJC did a decent job with the information they had. Continue this with all information available and with cooperation of council members. Publish the list. Publish any future gifts.
- Require that all council members reimburse taxpayers the full face value of the tickets they were given.
- Ask the city attorney to formally investigate this matter as an ethics violation. He may wish to recuse himself though as he was also on the receiving end of free tickets.
- Enhance the CVB’s record keeping processes with an eye towards transparency. Forbid giving anything to elected officials.
- Consider modifying the city’s ethics policy to clamp down on nearly every gift.
- Use this opportunity to come clean with any other gift giving perks.
Do the right thing, guys.
Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB/Chris Lee (Creative Commons)