The group leading the effort in opposing a taxpayer-funded baseball stadium in Wilmington, led by co-organizers Josh Fulton and Ben McCoy, turned in around 4,000 completed petition signatures to the City Clerk on Thursday, marking the end of a long process of gathering support against the effort to secure tax dollars for a stadium led by Mandalay, the Atlanta Braves, and the Flywheel/Trask (FT) conglomerate.
Within hours, the effort to discredit and skew the facts about the petition effort began, led by Wilmington City Councilman Kevin O'Grady.
Click here to watch O'Grady's comments
O' Grady's comments were a tacit declaration of war on Wilmington citizens, who are clearly against the idea of handing over their tax dollars to private enterprise to build a baseball stadium. 8 out of 10 citizens approached with the petition enthusiastically signed it, and wanted their voice to be heard on the issue. Many just believed that they should have a say in the matter, and that it should go to a voter referendum, instead of city council shoving it down their throats.
But that's not how Councilman Kevin O'Grady sees it. If he decides he wants to spend tens of millions of tax dollars on a bad project, then how dare any citizen speak up and say otherwise.
O'Grady also tells us that those in favor of the petition are forcing the city to spend money to verify it. County Board of Elections estimates that the entire process would cost no more than $50K, including an election. This is far less than $60-$80 million for a stadium, and is unfortunately the only way to stop it, since those elected on council are not representing the will of the people. City Council has had ample opportunity to assure the public a voice in this matter, and to put the issue to a public vote. They have chosen not to however, because they do not agree with the sentiments of the public, and want to have their way, rather than those they are elected to represent. Any costs associated could have been easily avoided by a city willing to serve the public - as they are chartered to do.
There is also a fear campaign being waged. O'Grady and Mayor Saffo are out there telling the public that the language of the petition affects much more than just the proposed stadium. They have said that if this petition passes, that funding will have to be cut from Legion Stadium, since it is a stadium for the "purposes of professional sports and other events", which is the language from the petition ordinance.
There are several problems with this however.
Besides the fact that it was never the intention of the petition to target anything other than the construction of a new stadium with tax dollars; and the fact that the city chose to ignore multiple attempts to work amicably together on drafting language mutually agreeable, several technical and legal issues still stand in the way of the idea that Legion would have to be defunded.
ISSUE #1: According to city documents, the city is under contractual obligation through an interlocal agreement with New Hanover County to fund the operations and debt cost of Legion Stadium. The petition ordinance says nothing about breaching any existing contracts or interlocal agreements - in fact, doing such would probably be a violation of the law.
Interlocal Agreement: Click Here
ISSUE #2: The City of Wilmington is obligated to pay debt on Legion Stadium. City documents reveal that the city still has several years of debt to pay along with the county on the stadium. It would be impossible for an ordinance of any kind - petition-generated or not - to nullify that debt obligation. This debt is held by the banks, who have every legal ground to hold the city financially responsible for that existing debt. Furthermore, the city has a fiduciary duty to pay its agreed debts.
If cities could simply nullify debt obligations through ordinances, then there would be debt-free cities all over the US! Simply put, the city is on the hook for the money it borrowed and agreed to pay back for Legion Stadium. Cancelling this debt through an ordinance would be impossible.
Legion Debt Agreement: Click Here
ISSUE #3: One prime consideration, that has played a vital role in many court case verdicts, and even interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, is the idea of the spirit vs. the letter of the law. There is no doubt that the spirit of the law in this regard is to target a yet to be built, minor league baseball stadium for private enterprise with tax dollars. This would invariably be considered should the law ever be interpreted by a judge.
Again, it is imperative to state that although concerns about the impact this ordinance would have to functions such as Legion Stadium have been overblown and completely misrepresented, it is important to consider the facts as they are surrounding the issue and the reality of the fact that ordinances cannot nullify prior fiduciary obligations. It is believed however, that these views expressed by certain members of the City Council are not true concerns, but cheap scare tactics employed out of the desperation they feel to rule unhindered; the entitlement they ascribe themselves; and the will to spend tax dollars frivolously without incurring any resistance from the public.