Legal experts say Columbus referendum to defund arena bailout could have teeth

Before anyone asks: No, I didn’t skip posting anything yesterday just in order to keep the appeal for new FoS Supporters at the top of the page. (Big thanks to everyone who’s joined so far, though!) Yesterday was just one of those days where I was slammed from morning till night, and didn’t have time to visit the stadium world.

That means that today we need to play extra catchup, though, so let’s get to it:

It turns out that that crazy plan to hold a referendum to overturn Columbus’s 2011 Blue Jackets arena bailout isn’t so crazy after all, or isn’t necessarily crazy, or something like that. Two legal experts tell Ohio NPR station WOSU that the ploy might just hold up in court:

“Citizens can do this,” Ohio State Moritz College of Law Professor Dale Oesterle said.

Oesterle said Columbus City Charter allows voters to put an initiative on the ballot to create a new ordinance.

“This is an effort to put a new ordinance on the books which, in essence, affects the operation of an old ordinance that they disagree with. It’s very clever, actually.”

Oesterle says the law is unclear on what would happen if a new ordinance to stop payments on the arena were put into effect; another Ohio State law professor, meanwhile, Stephanie Hoffer, said that Columbus’ Convention Facilities Authority might have to go into default if this happened.

It’s still pretty inconceivable that Columbus would let things get this far — depending on how the referendum is worded, it could try to come up with other money to use to pay for the arena that it took off the Blue Jackets’ hands two years ago. (Hey, Minneapolis pulled it off.) But this referendum campaign is more clever than I gave it credit for, and likely to be watched closely in other cities with citizens who regret past stadium and arena deals, which is a whole lot of places.

3 comments on “Legal experts say Columbus referendum to defund arena bailout could have teeth

  1. Living in a state with both initiatives and referenda, I feel compelled to point out the difference.

    Initiatives go to the ballots to add new laws/legislation to the books.
    Referenda are used to make already passed laws/legislation or legislation currently under consideration already get voted on by the public.

    Maybe they work differently in Columbus, but I doubt it.

  2. Living in a state without many of either, I hereby pledge to use “ballot measure” to describe all public votes from here on out.

  3. From my POV, whether the measure is successful or not is largely irrelevant. The agency/authority has entered into a binding agreement with a private party. If they either renege or declare bankruptcy, or are swept out of existence by legislation, the fact is the private party with which the agreement was made has the right to expect that agreement to be honoured or bought out. If it is not, they will launch and likely win compensatory action.

    It’s really a shame, because the deal the city signed stinks IMO. But they signed it, and their new “partners” in corporate welfare do have the right to expect to receive those welfare payments going forward.

    Think of that next time the Jackets sign a $6m hockey player. Ok, if they ever sign one…