DENVER (CBS4) – A group of nine political appointees have been enjoying the free use of a well-appointed luxury suite at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for Bronco games for years but are now considering if they should allow others to use the luxury box.
The new thinking comes after a CBS4 investigation raised questions about the use of the 23 person suite.
The football stadium’s $400 million cost was primarily paid for by Colorado taxpayers, and the facility is overseen and managed by the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, which represents the public.
The district board is comprised of nine political appointees: six from area counties and three appointees named by the governor.
All of the appointees are volunteers and most of the appointees have been on the board for years.
The board met four times in 2012 and two times in 2013, according to their website.
As part of the lease between the MFSD and the Broncos, the board receives a luxury suite that seats 19 but holds a total of 23 people, with a face value of $12,037.70 per game, along with parking passes and access to another half dozen club level seats for every home game.
CBS4 found that board members have been keeping the suite and tickets to themselves, allowing each board member to use the suite for at least one home game each year.
“I would invite people in my family, friends or employees of my law firm, people like that,” said Gene Ciancio, a prominent Adams County attorney who is Adams Counties’ representative on the board.
Records obtained by CBS4 show that for the 2013 season, Ciancio was given the box for the Broncos’ Nov. 17 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In 2012 he also had the box for the Broncos-Chiefs game.
“It’s a little higher class I guess it’s a privilege or an upgrade,” Ciancio said of using suite No. 232.
“When its 10 below outside and the wind is blowing it’s pretty damn nice. It’s a typical suite, not like Mr. Bowlen’s. It’s a normal luxury box suite.”
The fully enclosed suite is in a corner of the north endzone and features ample seating for 19 people, a private bathroom, comfortable seats, three flat screen TVs, a wet bar and fridge and a buffet area.
Board members are required to pay for their own food and drinks when they use the suite.
“I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about it whatsoever,” said Ciancio. “I think it’s totally appropriate.”
Ciancio told CBS4 that many other public stadium boards around the country have similar deals and get free suites as part of their lease agreements, so the MFSD board members should get the same.
“If there was a meeting tomorrow I would vote to leave it the way it is, to let each member allocate it in a way they see fit because I think it’s totally appropriate.”
Fellow board member Norm Early, a former Denver District Attorney and Denver’s representative to the board for more than a decade, had the suite last season when the Raiders came to town.
The previous year board records show he had the box when Houston visited the Broncos.
“All of it’s great,” Early said of using the suite for games. He said when he has the suite he uses it “for whomever, for whatever — friends and family.”
But State Sen. Lois Tochtrop (D-Adams County), was harshly critical of board members using the suite for themselves.
“I think it’s absolutely an unnecessary perk,” she told CBS4.
“You were asked to become a board member to represent the public. Just because you are a board member doesn’t mean you should get extra perks.”
Tochtrop suggested board members should abide by the spirit of Amendment 41, which prohibits certain public officials from accepting pricey gifts.
“You don’t take perks like that,” urged Tochtrop. “It’s ethics in government.”
She said if stadium board members want to see how Sports Authority Field at Mile High is working during Bronco games, they should buy a couple of tickets in the south stands or take a guided tour of the stadium.
“Sitting isolated and exclusively is not how you are going to see how a stadium works.”
Tochtrop suggested the suite could be turned over to various charities which could auction it off to raise money for their causes. Or, said Tochtrop, the suite could perhaps be sold and the proceeds refunded to taxpayers.
“The stadium district should look at this carefully and without pushback, not use the free tickets for their own use.”
Roy Palmer, a gubernatorial appointee to the board, told CBS4 he agreed with Tochtrop.
“I’m solidly for giving it back,” said Palmer, an executive with Xcel Energy.
Palmer had the suite for the Redskins game in 2013, the Cleveland Browns in 2012 and the Jets in 2011.
“Friends and family. That’s the way I’ve used it,” said Palmer. “But if it’s going to be a distraction, give it back, donate it to charity.”
While each board member takes ownership of the suite for a single home game, records show that the board and its staff members traditionally share the box for the opening regular season game then share it again for home playoff games if the Broncos make it into the post season.
So with just two board meetings in 2013, and none to date in 2014, according to the district’s website, board members spent more time in the suite in the last year watching games than meeting to discuss stadium operations.
The other members of the board are Chairman Ray Baker, an appointee of the governor, Jim Harrington from Arapahoe County, Jack Hilbert from Douglas County, Gabriel Fenton from Boulder County, Donald Johnson from Jefferson County and Joy Burns, an appointee of the governor.
Matt Sugar, a staff member of the Football Stadium District, told CBS4 the board would likely hold a meeting in the near future and discuss several issues, including use of the suite.