A group of West End residents calling themselves the Coalition Against an FC Cincinnati Stadium have begun gathering signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot to decide whether to repeal the city’s deal to spend $64 million in cash and tax breaks on a new MLS stadium for F.C. Cincinnati, assuming F.C. Cincinnati gets invited to join MLS. But in any case, the city of Cincinnati is having none of this whole “popular vote” nonsense, arguing that because the stadium deal was passed as an “emergency” measure, it’s not subject to referendum:
The FC Cincinnati deal was passed as an “emergency” ordinance, and the city’s law department told The Enquirer Friday “if an ordinance is passed with an emergency clause, it is not subject to referendum.”
Emergency clauses allow ordinances to go into effect immediately instead of after 30 days…
“That this ordinance shall be an emergency measure is necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, safety and general welfare,” the ordinance reads. “The reason for the emergency is to enable the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to be executed as soon as possible so that the Club can promptly move forward with its attempt to secure a bid for membership as a Major League Soccer franchise, which if granted will result in the construction of the stadium, the creation of job, and the stimulation of economic growth in the area at the earliest possible date.”
That takes a lot of balls, passing legislation as an “emergency” on the grounds that it will create such desperately needed economic growth that waiting even a month would put at stake the general welfare. (I’m going to assume here that “creation of job” is a simple typo and not a Freudian slip.) It’s not clear that there are any limits on the Cincinnati council’s power to determine what is and isn’t an emergency, though; as the Cincinnati Enquirer notes, a similar challenge to a 2013 emergency measure that would have privatized the city’s parking system — man, Cincinnati sure does have a lot of emergencies that involve handing public assets over to for-profit entities, don’t they? — was rejected on appeal, though it never received a final verdict as the parking privatization plan was eventually withdrawn.
In general, the history of after-the-fact attempts to repeal stadium subsidies isn’t a great one, going back to 2002 when the people of St. Louis voted to require that any sports subsidies be required to go up for a public vote, only to have the courts rule that this couldn’t apply to the then just-approved Cardinals stadium subsidy because it had already happened before the 2002 referendum. And then when it was time to approve subsidies for the Blues the St. Louis city council just went and decreed that it wouldn’t require a public vote. But don’t be too judgey of the councilmembers — it was probably an emergency.