An effort to hold a public referendum on Minneapolis’s portion of the Vikings stadium costs appears to face some stiff legal hurdles, following a hearing Tuesday in Hennepin County court.

Doug Mann, who is running for mayor, filed suit in Hennepin County alleging that the stadium legislation passed by the Legislature improperly violated a city charter provision requiring city expenditures of more than $10 million on sports facilities be put to the voters. That charter amendment was passed through ballot initiative in 1997.

Complicating matters, however, is an explicit override of the city’s charter that was included in the stadium bill. The bill said the city could fund its portion of the stadium – about $309 million – “without regard to any charter limitation, requirement, or provision, including any referendum requirement.”

The city attorney’s office has also argued that this override was not necessary because the local sales taxes being used for the stadium would not have triggered the referendum. Stadium opponents, including City Council Member Cam Gordon, have questioned that logic.

The legal argument in Mann’s petition is multi-pronged and at times hard to discern. He notes that so-called “special laws” are subject to local approval, but ignores the fact that the City Council gave such approval on a 7-6 vote. He also asserts that the Legislature’s override exceeded their authority under the Minnesota constitution, despite numerous other cases where the state nullified charter provisions in recent years.

The judge hearing arguments Tuesday, Philip Bush, said any constitutional questions should have been challenged through a different method in Ramsey County court.

During the hearing, Mann also acknowledged that the Legislature does have the authority to override provisions of the Minneapolis charter.

“The legislature has authority to repeal laws, including the city charter provision,” said Mann, who is representing himself. “It’s another question if they have the right to disenfranchise the voters of Minneapolis by overriding a right that the local governments have under the state constitution” to approve special laws through a governing body or public referendum.

Peter Ginder, with the Minneapolis city attorney’s office, said the requirement that the “governing body” of Minneapolis approve the stadium bill is the primary issue in the case. “Once the City Council approved that, it removed any requirement to hold a referendum on the sales taxes,” Ginder said after the hearing.

Bush asked Mann to file responses to some additional questions before he makes a formal ruling in the case. Even if he finds the petition moot because of the override, Bush may offer insight into whether the stadium legislation would have otherwise triggered a referendum.

If Bush deems a referendum necessary, Ginder said it would be nearly impossible to put on the 2013 ballot. That’s because final ballot language must be to the County Auditor’s office in late August.

Photo: Doug Mann