Zoo’s Public Paper Problem

Papering a venue to mask poor ticket sales is one thing, but the Oregon Zoo has learned it’s quite another when those free tickets are distributed to staffers, especially when they are public employees.

Zoo administrators apparently violated public policy when they handed out about 50 freebies to employees for a July 8 concert by AfroCubism. Only about 500 tickets had been sold for the show in the zoo’s 3,800-capacity amphitheatre, and between 700 and 1,000 tickets had already been given away, according to The Oregonian of Portland.

“Employees shouldn’t be able to benefit from their employment in ways that aren’t available to the public – that’s my interpretation” of Metro policy, zoo communications manager Stephanie Cameron told the paper. The zoo is operated by Metro, a regional government agency.

The show was third in the zoo’s 21-concert summer series. When tickets for AfroCubism, made up of Cuban and Malian musicians, failed to sell, officials reportedly tried Ticketmaster and other promotions before giving the tickets away.

Zoo officials, including director Kim Smith, handed out up to 1,000 freebies to members, sponsors, vendors, catering clients, hotel concierges, tourism promoters, community organizations and others, Cameron told the Oregonian.

With seats galore remaining, she said, “it was opened up to employees last … I don’t think we’ve done anything that is super egregious.” Communications director Jim Middaugh said there would be an investigation.

The Oregon Zoo summer concert season usually rakes in an estimated $500,000 in profit, but Cameron told the paper it’s off to a slow start.

“We don’t know if it was the date, the weather or economy related,” Cameron told the paper. “We want the ability to book good artists in the future. Having a full house helps. Plus, the more people you get in the door, the more it helps promote everything else going on in the zoo.”

The 2011 series includes artists such as Los Lobos, Peter Frampton and k.d. lang.