Action to deny vote on downtown hotel advances

downtown hotelA city council committee on Monday unanimously approved a resolution to deny a city vote on building a downtown convention hotel.

A conservative group called Citizens for Responsible Government successfully raised 2,007 signatures to force an initiative vote on the $800-room, $311 million hotel.

But City Attorney Bill Geary reported Monday that the effort is illegal and unconstitutional in several ways.

“They don’t have a right to put an illegal ordinance on the ballot,” he said.

The council Ethics and Legal Review Committee voted to recommend approval on denying the vote and sent it to the full council, which could  consider it next week.

The proposed petitioner ordinance would involve a vote on rejecting all existing contracts and agreements for the hotel and requiring a public vote on any downtown hotel that gets Tax Increment Financing.

“We’re talking about stopping lawful actions,” Geary said, “and prefacing those lawful actions on something else.”

Time after time, Geary listed legal problems:

  • It would breach and impair a series of signed  agreements and contracts between the city and developers.
  • It would apply the petitioner ordinance retroactively to stop legal actions in place before it was passed, if it passed.
  • It would unconstitutionally change state law on TIF, which is to be determined by cities, project by project.

For the city to breach its development agreements would be illegal and open it to paying damages to developers, Geary said.

Mike Burke, a former councilman involved in the development team, was asked Monday if they would sue if delayed by a vote.

“There is a lot invested and if we suffered delay we would be at risk and we would definitely take that into account,” he said.

Geary said that the city must respond, or not respond in this case, to the petitioner vote issue by Nov. 30. Then petitioners have 10 days to demand their matter be put on a ballot, and after the city ignores that, the petitioners can file a lawsuit, which Geary said will lose.

Mayor Sly James, a member of the committee, said they should not send the resolution for a final vote this week to allow time for Geary to make his presentation to the full council.

James also said a broader issue is in play: “If we can’t be counted on to honor our contracts, people will completely stop doing business with us.”

No one spoke for the citizen group.

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