It’s deja vu for citizens in Ohio as another one of the state’s major cities attempts to circumvent inconvenient provisions in the law to provide tax dollars for a stadium project.
The Cincinnati city council has borrowed pages from the playbook of its sister city in the state of Ohio, Cleveland, when it comes to bypassing democracy to fill the coffers of people involved with professional sports. Less than a year after the city of Cleveland sued itself to avoid putting whether or not the Cavaliers would get $70 million in public funds as reimbursement for renovations done to Quicken Loans Arena up for a vote, the city of Cincinnati is attempting the same thing.
According to Cameron Knight of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati’s city council approved the funding in what it is calling an “emergency measure.” The convenient result of that designation is that emergency measures under the city’s code can’t be put up for a public vote, even if enough registered voters express their desires for that to take place.
That’s basically identical to what Cleveland’s city council did in regards to the funding for the Q. That spending measure was also passed as an “emergency” item in order to expedite the process. It seems the only difference to this point has been whether or not Cincinnati’s council even bothered to actually record the votes necessary to pass the measure as a legitimate emergency move.
In another twist of similarity, the issue of whether or not the spending measure could be put up to a public vote in Cincinnati was raised by a group of citizens who presented a petition with enough signatures to trigger the referendum under Ohio law. Again, this is exactly what happened in 2017 in Cleveland. What remains to be seen is exactly how this scenario will play out from here.
After the Cleveland city council refused to even acknowledge receipt of the petition, the civic group that organized the signature campaign filed suit against the city council to force the referendum. In an evil genius legal move, the city then sued itself in the Ohio Supreme Court so it could throw the case and bypass the referendum. That didn’t work, however, as the state’s high court allowed the civic group to join that lawsuit as a plaintiff and ultimately decided in its favor.
That court victory ended up being a moot point, however, when the Cavaliers and the civic group negotiated a deal in which the team pledged more funding for community programs in exchange for the group withdrawing its petition. The legal precedent that Ohio cities must recognize such petitions in the state’s high court still exists if the group of Cincinnati residents decide to file suit, however.
That the funding ultimately went to the Cavaliers despite the legal challenges could be a reason why the Cincinnati council is copying Cleveland’s scheme in its stadium funding measure. Ultimately the owners of the potential MLS expansion franchise may not be able to pacify the citizens if a lawsuit does arise, and then the council may face the terrible circumstance of taxpayers having a say in how the tax dollars they contributed get spent by the council members they elected.