Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wilmington Council Declares War on Citizens

UPDATE: Wednesday evening, WWAY featured an interview with City Clerk Penny Spicer-Sidbury in which she stated that if only petition organizers had approached her for help in the beginning, the nullifying issues could have been addressed. This is patently false, as petition co-organizer Josh Fulton inquired of her help in the beginning, and was subsequently turned down, by both her office, and that of the City Attorney.

In a move saddled with unprecedented hubris, the pomposity and arrogance of the Wilmington City Council was on full display Tuesday night, as members declared the petition against a taxpayer-funded stadium "invalid"; and also voted in favor of moving forward with a bond referendum for the stadium, that would equate to the giving away of tax dollars wholesale to private interests.

Several citizens addressed the council with well-spoken honesty and truth pleading with them to simply represent those whom they were elected to serve. The only scientific poll conducted to date reveals that over 80% of Wilmington citizens do not want to be taxed to pay for a baseball stadium for private interest.

Mandalay Baseball recently insulted the City of Wilmington and its citizens with a proposal that included the levying of $50,000/day fines against city taxpayers if the stadium wasn't built for them by a certain date. Instead of defending the citizens and the city they were elected to serve, the council shrugged off the proposal, and kept chugging forward with the attempt to strike a deal with Mandalay, despite the increasing numbers of citizens rising up and standing against any continued negotiations with the group.

The petition against a taxpayer-funded stadium contained almost 4,000 signatures of Wilmington voters who stand in solidarity against a tax-funded stadium. On Tuesday night, Penny Spicer-Sidbury, Clerk for the city, declared the petition "invalid" and with the wave of their collective hand, council adopted this opinion without discussion.

The wave of the hand represents a perfect metaphor for how the council views those that they serve and their opinions. With one dismissing gesture, the council has told an enormous majority of voters that their opinions and wishes mean nothing, and that the seven members of council know better, are more important, and will pursue their own ends no matter what the wishes of the public happen to be.

Section 3 of the Constitution of the State of North Carolina clearly tells us how our form of government is to operate:

The people of this State  have the inherent, sole, and exclusive right of regulating the
internal government...
However, that is not the case here. The wishes of the people are duly noted, and the city council is knowingly and arrogantly ignoring them.

One would have to wonder at some point why exactly are the members of council dogmatically pursuing such a horrible plan that the people want no part of? The actions of this city council are tantamount to an open declaration of war on the very citizens that elected them, and who they are sworn to serve.

A taxpayer-funded stadium, and the 30 years of debt that accompanies it is clearly something taxpayers of all stripes do not desire, and is not in their best interest. However, such an ill-conceived plan is certainly in the best interest of Mandalay Baseball and the Atlanta Braves, as they will receive a facility for a minimal investment, saddled with others' investment, of which they will receive no return.

So why is our elected city council loyally answering and obeying the wishes of outsiders; private conglomerates who have no interests here, who pay no local taxes, and who have done nothing for this city - save dictating the terms of this deal to an obedient city council hellbent on satisfying their every whim? What is in it on a personal level for each and every council member to neglect their offices and pursue that which they are being warned by voters not to pursue?

This council is an embarrassment to this community, and has willingly abandoned their sworn duty in order to appease wealthy private interests who are here for the sole reason of soaking our taxpayers dry to seed an investment that they themselves realize is too risky for the private sector. Any honest community leader would have told them to take a hike months ago. A council member that possesses a shred of integrity would have declared any further negotiations an insult to those they serve. But unfortunately for the people of Wilmington, they have no such member of their city council.

DISCLAIMER FOR THE FOLLOWING: Recently, talks have centered around the idea that Wilmington would own the stadium from the outset, instead of the initial proposal that had Mandalay and the Braves owning it for 30 years. The rest of this article pertains to the original scenario, which could still be in play. If the city owns the stadium from the beginning, the following would not apply.

As if this wasn't enough, council decided to continue the pursuit of a bond referendum to pay for the stadium, which will not be owned by the city. In this unprecedented move, the bond, if approved by voters, would equate to the transfer of public tax dollars to a private organization, an action that is most certainly illegal. defines municipal bonds as
...debt instruments that are issued by public entities, such as municipalities, cities, states or counties, to fund their capital expenditures. The capital expenditure of public entities includes costs associated with the construction of schools, bridges, highways and other public interest projects.
How is a private stadium a public capital expenditure? In short, it isn't.

Again, the State Constitution has this to say in Article V Sec. 14:

Notwithstanding Section 4 of this Article, the General Assembly may enact general laws authorizing any county, city, or town to define territorial areas in the county, city, or town and borrow money to be used to finance public improvements associated with private development projects within the territorial areas, as provided in this section.
It doesn't say that the city can borrow money to give away to private interests - only to provide public improvements associated with such ventures.

Section 4 of the same Article states:
Authorized purposes; two-thirds limitation. The General Assembly shall have no power to authorize any county, city or town, special district, or other unit of local government to contract debts secured by a pledge of its faith and credit unless approved by a majority of the qualified voters of the unit who vote thereon, except for the following purposes:
(a) to fund or refund a valid existing debt;
(b) to supply an unforseen deficiency in the revenue;
(c) to borrow in anticipation of the collection of taxes due and payable within the current fiscal year to an amount not exceeding 50 per cent of such taxes;
(d) to suppress riots or insurrections;
(e) to meet emergencies immediately threatening the public health or safety, as conclusively determined in writing by the Governor;
(f) for purposes authorized by general laws uniformly applicable throughout the State, to the extent of two-thirds of the amount by which the unit's outstanding indebtedness shall have been reduced during the next preceding fiscal year.
Since a private baseball stadium doesn't fall under one of the listed contingencies; and since sections of the State Constitution cannot conflict with one another, it would appear that this pursuit is unconstitutional.

The question that remains, is what are we as voters and citizens going to do about it?