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Inside City Hall: Stokes defends unlimited Ticketmaster fees

Money controls the government? Stokes gets into a testy exchange with citizen activist Kim Trueheart.

rihanna

A City Council bill allows Ticketmaster to charge unlimited fees for events like this June 2011 Rihanna concert at First Mariner Arena.

Photo by: rihannalounge.com

Moments before his committee approved a bill yesterday allowing ticket-selling companies to charge unlimited user and other fees – but saying citizen-sellers could add no more than 50 cents to face value – Councilman Carl Stokes allowed members of the public to testify.

Up stepped activist Kim Trueheart, rising to the microphone in high dudgeon, correctly anticipating the outcome (the panel voted 3-1 to approve the bill.)

“Money controls the government. I didn’t think it controls you,” she said, observing that the measure in effect legalizes “unlimited scalping in Baltimore” for companies, but prevents all but a symbolic 50-cent scalp by a citizen ticket-holder.

Trueheart said people are angry about “the exorbitant ticket pricing” policies of  Ticketmaster. “You’re going to go against the people that vote?” Trueheart said. “People should come first, before the dollar.”

Not a Sin to Make a Buck

Trueheart sat down and Stokes replied with equal fervor.

“It’s never been a sin in America to make a dollar,” he said, prompting Trueheart to return to the microphone where she tried to speak.

“I am not allowing you back,” Stokes said, cutting her off and resuming his remarks.

“The business and arts organizations pay taxes, too,” he said. “Business institutions, many of whom are non-profits, contribute mightily to the benefit of citizens.”

No one from Ticketmaster testified.

Along with Stokes, councilmen William H. Cole IV and Edward Reisinger voted in favor of the bill, which still requires approval by the full body.

Councilman Bill Henry, who has said that the fees charged to Ticketmaster and other companies should have some limits as well, voted against the measure. Councilman Warren Branch abstained.

“Temporary” Measure

Stokes said he sponsored the bill “as a stop-gap measure” while the council prepares permanent legislation to respond to the event that kicked the lawmakers into action – a January ruling by Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court,  striking down Ticketmaster’s unpopular user fees in Baltimore.

It had been a David-and-Goliath win. The complainant was Andre Bourgeois, who took Ticketmaster to court after he was charged $12 in user fees on a $52 ticket to see a Jackson Browne concert at the Lyric in 2009.

City lawmakers argued that would hurt city businesses – and apparently have a long and storied history of rising to Ticketmaster’s defense.

After yesterday’s vote, Henry noted that his thinking on the matter has evolved, circling around by “500 degrees” since he first considered it.

Henry said he had originally thought the entertainment venues in town would be happy to cut out the middleman,” but he learned that they consider the process of setting up their own online ticket sales “a non-trivial exercise.”

“None of them wants the hassle of having to sell their own tickets,” he said, arguing that if they were forced to, “the total cost of the tickets to the consumer probably wouldn’t change.”

After the vote, the panel then turned to another issue local residents see as a David-and-Goliath matter – Howard Park taking on Rite Aid Pharmacy to advance a long-delayed supermarket project.

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  • Robert Walshe

    So if I pay ticketmaster $12 in fees I have to take a hit of $11.50 if I can’t use the ticket and have to sell it.

  • ZacharyMurray

    Carl Stokes is a clown…big surprise here

  • http://twitter.com/bosconet p johnson

    Bottom line, Councilmen Stokes, Cole and Reisinger care more about business interests (Ticketmaster, Os and Ravens) than they do about the tax paying voters who elect them. 

  • bmorepanic

    Is it possible to find out how much ticketmaster has paid the city in taxes on their fees?  Just curious – I’m betting that they pay entertainment taxes as required on the ticket price but nothing on their fees.

    Interesting trying to use the argument that ticketmaster, which no longer exists as a separate company and instead is a brand name within the Live Nation Entertainment Big Conglomerate of hugosity, pays taxes.  The corporation files in Delaware and they’re big enough that their returns as like mud to me.  But, it looks like they ain’t paying much, what they do pay goes to Delaware AND they’re camped on like a billion dollars in cash.

    And which arts organizations are they worried about who pay taxes?  If I think through most of the current concert venues in Baltimore City, I’m having difficulty coming up with any for profit entities.  Possibly I don’t get out enough, but I’m thinking somehow the city is going to lose money or those arts organizations wrote contracts with Live Nation guaranteeing a set amount for Live Nation.  So, if they can’t charge processing fees — does it come out of the ticket price?

    In any event, granting them unlimited fees seems a bit much.   That said, 50 cents seems pretty much way too low in a time where almost all tickets are sold through 3rd parties. 

  • BmoreFree

    Judging by how I have seen Baltimore City Council impose regulatory burdens here is how I see their logic:

    Handing out tax breaks like candy and exorbitant fees for tickets = good business, lets clear the path and mow down public housing that is in the way…

    Setting up a small sandwich shop or remodeling vacant homes = bad business, lets have them jump through 10 inspections and pay fees to the city equal to half their expected profit…

  • cwals99

    As long as this city’s activists of all stripes refuse to shout out these pols by name in public venues and start looking for candidates to run against all of these incumbents….they are not doing their jobs.

    We have gone beyond the point of shouting at politicians we all know are corrupt and working for wealth.  If you are not shouting that Carl Stokes and Jack Young need to go……vote them out of office……you are not doing your job as activists.  I pick on these two simply because I know they plan to run for Mayor.  All of them need to go!

    Start identifying candidates folks!  We have unemployed of all stripes who should be getting a City Hall pay check.  Let’s make sure they are passionate for justice though!!

  • Dan Harrison

    Why not just boycott the venues that use tickmonster.

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