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GOLDMAN: City Charter says people can demand Shockoe Stadium referendum

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Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. – As this column has been telling the Mayor and City Council for weeks, disrespecting the rights of the people is generally not a good strategy for a politician.

Has the Mayor and City Council ever heard of Section 7B.05 of the City Charter? I am probably the one who reads the charter, having written the Elected Mayor law years ago.

The state auditor says City Hall and all its patronage folks cost Richmond $10 million more than comparable city governments! What do these people do exactly?

The Mayor and his posse have brought the following on themselves, even though it could have been prevented.

It didn’t have to be this way, but let’s be honest, they have said it is their way or the highway.

Delegate Loupassi and I wrote a bipartisan letter asking – begging really – for them to do it the right way. They said no way, you do it our way or else.

We warned them it could come to this. It turns out there is a third way. Harder for sure. But it protects the right of the people.

It is right there in the Richmond City Charter, although unknown to the Mayor and City Council and their staffs and lawyers.

As readers know, this column has tried to be fair with the Mayor and City Council in terms of trying to get them to do the right thing.

Manoli and I wrote the Mayor pleading with him to engage the public prior to making a decision, to not simply announce a proposal and say it is “all or nothing.”

They gave us the bird. Okay, so be it.

Right now, the Mayor’s people are telling supporters of the Shockoe Stadium they are confident of winning the vote on City Council. They say they know how to twist the arms. The public be damned.

As I pointed out recently, the people of Henrico or Chesterfield could not be so treated, they couldn’t be so disrespected, they couldn’t be denied voting rights.

Over the years, the Mayor has been the first to say that African-Americans are not being treated fairly on voting rights. Some of us have actually sued to get all citizens equal voting and other rights – and we have done it without asking for any payment or to help us win public office.

We do it because it is the right thing to do. Simple as that. We sued our own party when necessary.

The right thing to do is to give the people of Richmond the same voting rights as those in Henrico and Chesterfield.

The Mayor and his posse refuse.

They will leave a lot of people with no other choice in my view.

So what is that little known provision of the City Charter, Section 7B.05. I doubt 10 people in Richmond have ever studied it.

This unknown section of the Charter is entitled “Optional referendum on ordinance authorizing the issuance of bonds.

The Mayor is asking City Council to authorize bonds, which will cost over $100 million when all the principal and interest is paid, to build his Shockoe Stadium.

By forcing the Stadium /bond plan on the city – without giving the people the same rights as residents of Chesterfield and Henrico would have – he is creating a real political firestorm for himself, along with allies.

I predict a group will form, and it will follow the procedures outlined in Section 7B.05 to gather the signatures needed to require a referendum to seek public approval for the Mayor to issue those bonds. That’s right: the law is clear, there can be no bonds unless approved by the citizens in a public referendum if Section 7B.05 is followed.

Section 7B.04(a) covers the “issuance of bonds.”

The bond issue to pay for the Mayor’s Shockoe Stadium has to be created by city ordinance. Section 7B.04(a) says “No such ordinance shall take effect until the thirty-first day after publication of notice of its adoption as hereinafter provided.” Why the delay?

Keep reading.

Section 7B.04(b) details the proper procedure for publication of said ordinance.

Section 7B.04 (c) makes it clear the bonds contemplated to pay for the Mayor’s Shockoe Stadium are covered by the referendum provisions in Section 7B.05.

Section 7B.05 was created to give the public a protection: it tells the public what it must do in that period of delay in Section 7B.04(a) to stop the politicians from robbing the treasury.

Section 7B.05 therefore sets up a process where the people can gather signatures to put on the ballot a public referendum BLOCKING the Mayor and his posse from issuing those bonds UNLESS THE PEOPLE give their okay.

This signature gathering process and required ballot referendum is covered by Section 3.06.1 of the City Charter. This is the same provision I used in 2003 to give the public the right to vote on the Elected Mayor law I had written for the Wilder-Bliley Commission.

The total number of signatures required is very high, it has only been reached once, by my “Vote Yes” campaign to put the Elected Mayor law on the ballot. But based on my experience, it can be done in the time frame allowed by the City Charter assumed those who are opposed to the way the Mayor and City Council have disrespected the public AS THEY CLAIM TO BE.

Talk is cheap, so nothing surprises me in politics any more.

Perhaps getting the petitions signed will prove too much work, perhaps all the talk is just that, blowhards all. We shall see. But I think not.

I predict if the Mayor and City Council do what they seem inclined to do, an organized effort will be made to gather the signatures required under Section 7B.05 to put the bond issuance on the ballot, thus requiring public approval in a referendum before the bonds can be sold.

If the public rejects the bond issue, then the stadium deal agreed to by the Mayor and City Council will collapse. It didn’t have to be this way. But our leaders insist on risking a train wreck for Richmond.

How does that help Richmond? I don’t get it.

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.

1 Comment

  • Glen Allen

    Thank you for yet another informative article Mr. Goldman. It will be interesting to see if City Council pushes their constituents to rebel against them and demand their right to a referendum. I rather hope they stand up for their constituents and listen to what they are saying by volunteering a referendum, or voting against the Mayor’s proposal even if they personally support it.

    The issue here is not just about where to build the stadium, but to tell the Mayor, and his eventual successors, that Richmond demands transparency, and will not accept any more backroom deals, and “my way, or no way” governance.

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