Free Cotton Bowl tickets for two Oklahoma City Council members draw questions

Questions surround trip to 2014 Cotton Bowl by Oklahoma City Councilmen James Greiner and John Pettis.
by William Crum Modified: February 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm •  Published: February 1, 2014

Two Oklahoma City Council members accepted free tickets in a corporate suite for the 2014 Cotton Bowl from an executive whose company does millions of dollars in business with the city.

It appears nothing illegal occurred but given the value of the tickets, some city officials expressed surprise.

Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner and Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis accepted Cotton Bowl ticket packages worth close to $900 each from Rick Padgett of Waste Management of Oklahoma.

Both councilmen are Oklahoma State University football fans — Pettis attended the university and Greiner graduated from OSU with a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design.

The Cowboys lost to Missouri 41-31 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 3. The game was that evening at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the Dallas Cowboys play.

Waste Management has trash hauling and recycling contracts with Oklahoma City worth an estimated $13.8 million per year, according to city figures. The company also shares in a $4.8 million landfill contract with three other companies.

The current contracts were approved by the council before Greiner and Pettis, now serving their first terms, were elected. The contracts would come up for renewal before their terms end.

Both councilmen said the gifts would not affect their judgment when it comes to evaluating Waste Management's bids on city business.

Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee, who has been on the council for 12 years, said he found the invitation to attend such a high-profile event as a contractor's guest to be very unusual.

McAtee said he maintains a personal “basic decision barometer,” derived from his reading of the Bible, that emphasizes the importance of avoiding any appearance of impropriety.

The value of gifts ought to be a matter of public record, said Ward 4 Councilman Pete White, another longtime member of the council.

“There has to be some disclosure or some kind of transparency,” he said.

It's common for council members to accept tickets for events such as last week's State of the City address, White said. That event, centered around a speech by the mayor, is sponsored by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the city's leading business organization.

White emphasized Greiner and Pettis did nothing illegal in accepting tickets to the football game.

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by William Crum
OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman.
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