So it looks like “the people” would have been able to vote on “The People’s Stadium” after all.
At least that was the takeaway from the opinion issued by Hennepin County Judge Philip Bush this week.
The television headlines highlighted Bush’s decision to dismiss mayoral candidate Doug Mann’s bid to force a referendum. But instead of leaving it at that, as judges often do, Bush went on to comment that the Vikings deal would have triggered a Minneapolis charter requirement to hold a public referendum on any sports facility deal worth more than $10 million.
That is a smackdown to Mayor R.T. Rybak’s frequent claims, and City Attorney Susan Segal’s opinion, that a referendum wasn’t needed because the local sales taxes used weren’t technically “city resources.” Segal argued the funds never entered the city treasury and were instead state-controlled.
Rubbish, Bush wrote.
Well, he used more appropriate but less precise language.
The Legislature voted to override the charter, just in case, making the point moot. But Segal’s opinion assumed the override didn’t happen, to make her argument stronger.
Charter? What charter?
Sandy Colvin Roy, the crucial swing vote on the stadium deal, cited the opinion as a reason for her vote. A more cynical person might suggest she voted for it because the unions wanted it, and just used Segal’s opinion as an excuse.
But for sport, but let’s take her at her word. As she said at the time: “I did not have the legal opinion about whether it would be triggered or not, whether it would be required. And now I do. And once I did have that, I disregarded my personal feelings and started looking at facts.”
As a president once said, facts are funny things.
Just look at another “fact” that was contested this week.
During the council vote to approve a $97 million renovation of Target Center, outgoing Council Member Diane Hofstede reminded everyone of the link between the stadium legislation and Target Center uplift.
“Without that decision this decision would not be possible,” she said.
The mayor has frequently repeated that the Vikings deal improved city finances by allowing restricted sales taxes to be spent on the renovation, lifting the burden on property taxpayers.
Turns out, not so much, according to former City Council Member Paul Ostrow, who submitted his opinion to the council.
Not long ago I got an e-mail from Ostrow about this ruse.
“Do you know that the city’s authority to use the sales tax for the Target Center improvements and other purposes was already achieved in 2009 and was not a result of the Vikings stadium bill?” wrote Ostrow.
“Did you know that the Ways and Means/Budget Chair in 2009 was not even aware of the broad new authority that was granted the City in 2009 to spend city sales tax dollars on capital projects both downtown and in the neighborhoods? That would be me.”
Ostrow showed me the 2009 legislation, and it certainly appears he is right. The later legislation basically added, “including Target Center,” which in fact was already included.
So the two main talking points [the “facts”] in selling the stadium deal to the city, and the council, turn out to be merely fact-like. Or more generously, half-truths. But as Mark Twain said, “a half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.”
Like the mayor, I’m not a big fan of endless referendums like they have in California. But the 1997 charter item was drafted specifically for something like this stadium deal, and it was dodged more beautifully than an Adrian Peterson touchdown run.
But that’s fine, because the people mentioned in the People’s Stadium will still get to respond, right?
“We are going to have a referendum in a couple of years when I stand for re-election,” Rybak once said.
But in a few months, the man who was elected by fighting $90 million in city funds to Target and Block E will become the invisible man — poof! — and one of his legacies will rise on the city’s eastern flank.
I asked Ostrow if he felt vindicated by Bush’s opinion.
“To some extent, yes,” he said. “But the big picture is that $678 million dollars and counting that could have gone into our neighborhoods to create jobs and housing and economic development between now and 2046 in the most needy parts of our city is gone.”
“How can our political culture — and, I am sorry, our media culture — allow this to happen?” Ostrow said. “Rather than telling folks who have criticized this awful deal to get over it and move on, this should be a moment that we all learn from to make sure that we demand more transparency and accountability in government.”
Asked about Ostrow’s complaint this week, Rybak told a reporter that “the last thing that this community needs is to dredge up an old argument.”
In other words, stop dredging, and start digging.