RICHMOND, Va. – Does the Virginia Constitution still count in Richmond? We shall soon find out.
Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones has asked Richmond City Council to bless his sweetheart, backroom Shockoe Stadium deal with the Economic Development Authority.
But the terms negotiated in secret violate the plain meaning of Article VIII of the Virginia Constitution.
In the document submitted by the Mayor to explain the deal, the city pledged to “cooperate in the development of the South of the Broad Street Parcel, as defined herein, consisting of various parcels of land some presently owned by the City… ” (Emphasis added.)
The Virginia Constitution, approved by the people, wisely anticipated that certain elected officials would try to use public property to the exclusive benefit of their friends and allies. Section 9 of Article VIII effectively prevents Jones from selling public land to his EDA allies requiring the support of seven of nine City Council members for such a sale.
We know this had been his original intention. He couldn’t get the seven votes.
While his latest deal merely references “land some presently owned by the City,” we can assume he intends to lease the land to the EDA.
Section 9 anticipated his land grab by requiring the following in pertinent part:
“No franchise, lease, or right of any kind in use of any such public property or any other public property or easement of any description in a manner not permitted to the general public shall be granted for a longer period than forty years…Before granting any such franchise or privilege for a term in excess of five years…the city…shall, after due advertisement, publicly receive bids therefor.”
While the Mayor’s EDA deal summary paper doesn’t indicate a lease term, Mr. Jones submitted another document saying the Squirrels would be leasing, or have the right to lease, the Shockoe Stadium from the EDA for 30 years with two additional five-year extensions.
This means the EDA would need to have the right to lease the stadium to the Squirrels for the same period.
But as we discussed, Section 9 prohibits Mayor Jones and City Council giving the EDA such a 40-year right to use said city property WITHOUT FOLLOWING THE PUBLIC BID PROCESS IN THE CONSTITUTION.
I know, I know. Imagine, someone in Richmond who (1) actually reads the VA constitution and (2) actually thinks it matters. How retro dude.
Mayor Jones and City Council have two basic choices. They can do what the Mayor is demanding, the Council can “approve through an Ordinance the Shockoe Development Cooperation Agreement between the City of Richmond and the Economic Development Authority of the City of Richmond” submitted to Council.
But this violates the Constitution, causing the Ordinance to be voided upon being challenged in court. It would cost the city another $250,000 in legal fees. Do they care though?
Or there is option #2, admittedly the “road not taken” in Richmond to paraphrase poet Robert Frost: Doing it right.
LONG LEGAL STORY SHORT
Section 9 of the Virginia Constitution prohibits what the Mayor and City Council want to do, transfer said right or rights in public land without there required public bid process.
There are many other legal problems with the no-bid, sweetheart EDA deal the Mayor and City Council are still thinking about forcing on the people of the City. But first things first, Section 9 of Article VIII of the Virginia Constitution.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.