For the socialites in the Shreveport Bossier area, the hottest "to be seen" event is without a doubt the biennial Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) "Christmas in the Sky" extravaganza held at Louisiana Downs. Tickets to this over the top soiree this past December were a cool $280 each; all of the allotted tickets sold out.
This black tie glamorous party was from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. The price of admission included food, booze, and live entertainment as well as live and silent auctions. The event had 16 auction areas, 10 stages, 12 bars and 11 themed buffets. More than 2000 guests from across the nation attended.
The Caddo Commission supports SRAC through a cooperative endeavor agreement to help under privileged students attend the Art’s Council Artbreak Program. The Commission has also agreed to help fund SRAC’s development of the Caddo Common Park. Commission economic development funds go to SRAC to produce the Stan Lewis Jazz Festival.
SRAC offered each of the 12 Caddo Commissioners two free tickets to the Christmas in the Sky party. Mike Middleton, who is one of the four reform minded Commissioners serving their first term, declined the tickets because of his concerns over a possible violation of the Louisiana Code of Government Ethics (Code). Middleton then requested an advisory opinion from the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
In a May 23, 2017 letter the Board of Ethics advised Middleton that the Code would prohibit him, as a Caddo Parish Commissioner, from accepting the free tickets. The Board cited Louisiana law that "no public servant shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or from any officer, director, agent or employee of such person, if such public servant knows or reasonably should know that such person has or is seeking to obtain contractual or other business or financial relationships with the public servant’s agency." This ruling confirms Middleton’s concerns about taking the free Christmas in the Sky tickets were confirmed.
In a previous opinion the Board has concluded that Caddo Commissioners were not prohibited from accepting tickets from the Independence Bowl Foundation to view the game from the Sky Box. In this instance, the Commission pays a sponsorship fee with public dollars, and receives tickets as part of the sponsorship packages. The Ethics Board found this to be "ok", although government watchdogs question this expenditure of public funds. The Shreveport City Council also helps fund the Bowl game; the mayor gets tickets for her office and the Councilmen do as well.
What impact the ethics opinion will have on the other Commissioners is unknown, or for that matter SRAC. The Commission funds many non profit organizations including the Shreveport Little Theatre, the Theatre of the Performing Arts, and the Shreveport Opera in addition to SRAC. The Shreveport City Council also funds local non profits, including the Red River Revel, the Shreveport Symphony, The Strand as well as The Shreveport Opera.
The ticket policies are of these organizations, as it pertains to providing complimentary tickets to elected officials including Shreveport Mayor Tyler and her administration, is unknown. What is known is that Middleton takes his ethical obligations as a Commissioner very seriously, and his actions speak loudly; hopefully his refusal to take the free Christmas in the Sky tickets will serve as an example to other public officials.