Blogger Russ Racop, who has asked the state Ethics Commission to review Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ gift of a free trip to a Cowboy game for North Little Rock police and family has dug up information about the size of the gift. Huge.
Racop argues it is a potential violation of the state law that prohibits gifts worth more than $100 to public servants.
Racop’s complaint has angered many for questioning a gesture of goodwill to police. Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has volunteered free legal services to anyone in a bind over this. The city has defended this as something of an enhancement to city compensation, since it went to all police (actually at least one recruit was left out), but it has no intention of treating it as taxable income. Racop has also come under fire for his own checkered record in the court system (which, however true, is irrelevant to the discussion). A first violation of the law is a minor offense, punishable by a warning.
Nonetheless: Racop has a new post up. He made a Freedom of Information Act request that reveals the value of the gift, arranged by Sgt. Michael Gibbons, president of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter. The gift was delivered in several group trips to Dallas and Gibbons accompanied each group.
According to one of many e-mails Racop obtained, 120 of 178 officers took the free trip —with family a total of 367 people. A significant amount of police work time was devoted to handling the complicated arrangements. (Gibbons, for example, took care to advise recipients not to wear clothing of any NFL team other than the Cowboys.)
Racop published a Gibbons email that put the cost at $180 a night for rooms at the DFW Marriott, air tickets to Dallas averaging $518, a $1,000 shuttle to games (presumably for busloads) and game tickets worth roughly $500 each.
“If you are bored and want to do the math go ahead, but I can tell you that it far exceeds $300,000 and I am still counting,” Gibbons wrote to all officers. Some additional gifts were presented at the games.
Racop observed that amount was equal to the amount spent by the LRPD to buy riot gear for the force.
The Ethics Commission has an easy, but nonetheless difficult decision to make. Discouraging favorable treatment of certain classes or individual public employees is the reason for the rule on gifts. And it’s a good one. Otherwise gifts can be a cloak for something nefarious. I don’t suggest that here. But rules exist for a reason. The City Council can’t make it go away with a resolution. If it can, any other agency for any other reason can plunge down the same slippery slope.
But will the Ethics Commission enforce the letter of the law or bow to popular sentiment?
Idle thought: Suppose Russ Racop and Jerry Jones are both stopped for driving 60 mph in a 20-mph zone in Jones’ former neighborhood of Rose City? Who gets the ticket? Who gets the warning?