Memphis, TN — Elected leaders in Shelby County are frequent users of a luxury suite and free tickets provided to the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County by the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.
Each mayor controls sixteen tickets per game, a perk of the Grizzlies lease with the publicly funded FedEx Forum.
A FOX13 investigation found that between October 6th of 2016 and January 15th of this year Shelby County Commissioners Walter Bailey and Mark Billingsley were the biggest users of the free tickets.
A register of people signing for the tickets, obtained by FOX13 through a freedom of information act request, shows Bailey using the free tickets twenty-nine times, while Billingsley used the free tickets twenty-two times.
Billingsley declined to explain his frequent use of the tickets, but told a reporter he had only been to two games this season.
"This is not newsworthy," Billingsley said.
Just because someone requests and is given the free tickets doesn't mean they actually attended the game. People who sign up for the tickets say they often give them to youth teams or community organizations.
"I think that giving it to the people of my district or whoever's district is better than me using them myself," said Commission Chair Terry Roland.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has spread the free tickets around between youth groups, community organizations and city workers.
"If it's police night, we’ll give the tickets, there's either fourteen or sixteen tickets, we give those to the Police Director and he gives them out either the precincts, or somehow distributes them, same thing with the fire, we give to the fire director, " Strickland said.
A similar approach is practiced at Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell's office. While there is nothing unsavory or illegal about the use of the tickets both offices are aware of the optics of elected leaders getting perks from public projects.
"I think there's always going to be an issue with the community when some group is getting something for free," said Luttrell's spokesman Steve Shular.
"Could it be changed, perhaps so, but that's something that we will have to continue to look at."
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