County official who put stadium tax on ballot sought suite tickets as talks were in play

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As the Royals and Jackson County began formal negotiations for taxpayer support of a $1 billion downtown ballpark last June, the chair of the county legislature asked a top team executive for a personal favor.

“Hi Adam,” legislator DaRon McGee’s email began to Adam Sachs, the team’s the chief legal counsel and public point man on the stadium issue. “Is it possible (to) get 4 suite tickets for Saturday’s game?”

McGee knew enough to copy Royals owner John Sherman’s personal assistant on the email, as she would be the one who would ultimately fulfill his request.

“Got it!” Sachs replied in a string of messages between McGee and the Royals that The Star obtained through an open records request for messages sent from and received by McGee’s county email address.

That next week, McGee received four suite tickets to the June 30 game between the Royals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He thanked Debbie Medina, Sherman’s assistant at his financial holdings company for getting him four box seats on the Plaza Level, in the Diamond Club, which according to the Royals’ website offers “breathtaking views of the field.”

Neither Medina, Sachs nor McGee made any mention of him having an obligation to pay for the “MVP seats” that are described in the emails, which based on last year’s prices would have cost $170 to $178 apiece.

On its face, the transaction would seem to be a violation of the county’s ethics code, which limits personal gifts to no more than $25. The guidelines are in place to guard against even the appearance of public officials having a conflict of interest in conducting business on behalf of taxpayers.

It was McGee who, six months later, introduced the ordinance that put the stadium sales tax measure on the ballot over the objections of the county administration before any of the key agreements on a lease deal had been reached. The legislator also had ties to three campaign committees that received more than $100,000 from the Royals ahead of the election, but less than half of it was spent to promote passage of the ballot measure.

On Monday, three days after The Star raised questions about the baseball tickets, McGee said he struggled to remember the incident and offered the following explanation:

“When you asked about Royals tickets received from Adam Sachs, I struggled to recall the circumstances from ten months ago. I don’t dispute that I received the tickets, but I can’t recall using them.

“I believe I had given them to a constituent, family member, or friend. I have given such items as a courtesy to people in all of these categories over the years.

“Most importantly, it was always my intent to pay for the tickets I received. I expected to get a follow-up email, or call, stating the cost. I never received this, and the matter slipped my mind. I have now paid for the tickets and trust this answers your question and resolves any concerns.”

McGee did not immediately respond to a followup email asking him when he paid for the tickets and how much.

Ethics violation?

Anyone found guilty by the Jackson County Municipal Court of violating the county ethics policy can be jailed up to six months and fined up to $500, according to Chapter 9 of the county code of ordinances says.

McGee is not being investigated by the Ethics, Human Relations and Citizens Complaints Commission, which is the body that would make a criminal referral after conducting an investigation. As of Friday, no one had asked for one.

“We don’t have any complaints against any county legislators that we’ve received. Not about what you’re talking about, or what you describe,” ethics commission director Chris Crawford told The Star. “So if there is a complaint out there, we haven’t received it.”

The Royals declined to comment on McGee’s free tickets, other than to say it is not uncommon for important people to ask the team directly for seats at a game.

“I guess I can say from our point of view around the team, just they’re welcome anytime,” a team spokesman said, He was referring to officials from county government, which he said owns the building.

Technically, the state-created Jackson County Sports Complex Authority is the stadium’s landlord, not the county government. The authority’s five board members, who are appointed by the governor, are guaranteed under the stadiums’ leases a certain number of free tickets that they can use as they please.

The authority has a suite at Arrowhead Stadium that seats 46. Board members hand those tickets out to friends, local officials and others who ask for them, including county legislators.

Some choose, however, to buy their own tickets to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The sports authority also is allocated 24 tickets to every Royals game. But they are not suite tickets, Jim Rowland, the recently retired executive director of the sports authority, told The Star earlier this year.

When elected officials in Missouri get gifts, such as free tickets to sporting events, they are required to report those valued at $200 or more on the personal financial disclosure forms they file annually with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

County Executive Frank White Jr., for instance, noted on his 2022 and most recent 2023 forms that he got a free ticket from the Royals to attend Opening Day at The K both years.

McGee was one of two legislators who did not file their 2023 form’s by this year’s May 1 deadline, the ethics commission said. His legislative aide told The Star’s reporter on Friday that she did not have a copy of McGee’s form, but that he would email a copy to the reporter.

That did not happen.

McGee’s role in stadium election

The Royals lost that June 30 ballgame 9-3. Two days earlier, the team had submitted a term sheet to the county executive, Rowland, County Administrator Troy Schulte and Mike White, a private attorney who represents the sports complex authority. The term sheet laid out the Royals’ proposal for a 40-year renewal of the current 3/8-cent stadium sales tax.

The money raised from the new tax would have gone to help pay for a new Royals ballpark and renovations at Arrowhead. But voters last month rejected the tax 58% to 42%.

McGee played an instrumental role in getting the tax measure on the ballot. In December, the Royals and Chiefs broke off negotiations with White, who they felt was dragging out the process.

McGee was the sole sponsor of a proposed ordinance aimed at putting what would be dubbed Question 1 on the April ballot.

The campaign committee that the teams formed spent $6 million on their effort to urge voters to approve the tax.

Separately, the Royals contributed a quarter million dollars to five campaign committees for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Three of those committees, which received a combined $110,000, have close ties to McGee: Southland Progress, Forward Jackson County and Democratic Coalition Kansas City.

Forward Jackson County and Democratic Coalition Kansas City share the same mailing address with McGee’s own election campaign committee, McGee for Jackson County.

The treasurer of all three is Byron Townsend, a political ally who served with McGee on the Hickman Mills school board.

Campaign finance reports show the committees spent just under half of the money they received from the Royals in support of Question 1.

The rest, according to those records, went to support people running for local school boards and the Grandview board of aldermen, or went unspent.