Cincinnati: Citizens can’t vote on soccer stadium deal, because it’s an “emergency”

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 — was rejected on appeal, though it never received a final verdict as the parking privatization plan was eventually withdrawn.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.

14 comments on “Cincinnati: Citizens can’t vote on soccer stadium deal, because it’s an “emergency”

  1. So….. the only thing that isn’t an emergency in the minds of Cincinnati city council is the nightmarish financial situation it finds itself in precisely because of their prior decisions to hand over public assets (including cash) to their favourite millionaires/billionaires?

    What a wonderful world we live in…

    • That’s standard operating procedure, so by definition can’t be an emergency.

  2. Ah yes the Great Soccer Emergency of 2018, which took the city like 40 years to financially recover from, so in the wrong ways more honest than they are willing to admit.

  3. Cincinnati missed the complete dumpster fire that is going on with the Cincinnati Reds right now. On pace for 120 loss season. I guess that’s not an emergency though since they already got their handout.

  4. Neil

    When are we all gonna get up off our fat lazy asses and march on out governments?

    I realize you and others here and elsewhere are doing yeoman work.

    However most of us including me continue to let this garbage go on.

    What will it finally take?

    A greatest depression where children go hungry?

    I don’t want to sound extreme or alarmist but the nonsense these local goobermints get away with especially in the area of sports is something that would make Capone and Corleone green with envy.

    I am so disgusted and while I agree in principle with the supremes decision yesterday, sports gambling will be another tool used to beat the local populace down even further.

    • You know what saddens me about this the most in retrospect?

      If there was an ounce of thinking ahead by anybody in the government of Cincinatti they would of built Paul Brown Stadium similar to Seattle’s stadium and make it MLS compatible.

      I truly hope that the goobers in Buffalo build their future Bills stadium in a similar way so the tax payers don’t have to get sticked twice.

      • The problem with Paul Brown Stadium has nothing to do with its design. It’s that the lease gave the Bengals full control over operations, so there’s no way they’d let an MLS team play there without giving up virtually all revenues.

        • So its not that Paul Brown wasn’t built to accommodate soccer its that Cincinnati politicians were dumb with the lease….gotchya.

    • OCDan, when only a fraction of eligible voters are registered to vote and only a fraction of registered voters actually vote, the fault, sir, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

  5. The sad thing is that there probably is no quid pro quo. These politicians believe so much in the power of entertainment to renovate cities that they will do anything to bring more in…even at a loss. That and wanting to be photographed at a ribbon cutting.

    So little knowledge of the careful work that economic growth requires…and not just in Cincinnati.

    • Do they really believe in the power of entertainment to renovate or “to distract the masses from failing foreign and domestic policies”? (from the book “Beer and Circus – how big time college sports has crippled undergraduate education” regarding corrupt Roman emperors providing free bread and circus to do the same.)

    • I doubt they actually believe in the power of “sports projects” to reinvigorate cities or boost economies. There’s plenty of hard evidence that they do neither (if they did, the same effect could be created by building for amateur sports teams and charging at least enough rent to cover operating costs and construction mortgage/bonds).

      It’s much more down to your second point, the photo op.

      A small percentage of voters love sports teams and professional sports in general. And politicians love two things: Being loved (which really means buying votes) and being in photographs that will be displayed much longer than they were actually in office.

  6. Meanwhile, the county Cincinnati sits in has to consider cutting sheriffs to be able to afford to pay the Bengals as they agreed to do in the Lease from Hell. This is why you don’t deal with the devil – he gives you what you want until you find out it isn’t, but you have to pay for it, anyway.

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