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Culture & Artsby Fern Shen12:47 pmMar 1, 20130

Inside City Hall: Stokes defends unlimited Ticketmaster fees

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

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

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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