Referendum on stadium funding gets court hearing

5:02 PM, Aug 20, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - The question of whether the city of Minneapolis should hold a public referendum on its contribution to the new Vikings Stadium project made it to court on Tuesday.

Mayoral hopeful Doug Mann is suing the City Council before Hennepin County District Court judge Phillip Bush.

Mann contended that the State Legislature was in error when it approved the long-contested bill to finance a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Mann believed the state should not have indicated that they could override a provision in the city charter.

The Minneapolis City Charter requires a public vote on sports facilities expenditures of more than $10 million. The Minneapolis contribution to the stadium protect is more than $300 million in local sales tax revenue.

However, the City Council relied on an opinion from the City Attorney that local sales tax revenues were not city resources and, thus, not requiring a referendum.

"I am seeking an order from the court to command the City Council to put a referendum on the ballot this November," Mann told reporters outside the Hennepin County Government Center, before entering the hearing.

Mann said he is an eight-time candidate for the Minneapolis School Board and presently an unendorsed Green Party candidate for mayor. He said he is a licensed practical nurse with only limited paralegal experience. Still, Mann represented himself in the action, saying "Nobody, I mean, nobody (no attorney) stepped forward to do this."

Judge Bush attempted to guide Mann through his arguments in the hearing, but warned him of the difficulty of pursuing a "Writ of Mandamus" order against the City Council. Bush said the writ was "not Law School 101, but Graduate School level law."

When Mann seemed perplexed by some of Bush's questions about his case, the Judge suggested that Mann might want to submit "supplemental" material in writing by next Monday, which Mann agreed to do.

Bush indicated that he was puzzled by the timing of Mann's lawsuit, so close to the November election. Mann indicated that he had been working more than 70 hours a week and believed that someone at the City Council would challenge the Legislature's action.

Bush wondered if it was even possible to hold a referendum on this November's ballot. Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder told reporters after the hearing that getting a vote this year could be difficult.

"There are a number of election law requirements that have to be met in order to put something on a ballot in a general election this November," said Ginder.

He indicated that all of the ballot language has to be with the County Auditor by Aug. 23, well before the case would be decided.

Mann said he was not averted to holding a special election.

"If the Judge were to find that the City Council does, in fact, have a duty to put this before the voters, then the extra expense of a special election, if it comes to it, would be secondary."

Mann said his motivation for entering the mayoral race was to help heal racial tensions in the city, but admitted that his court case could be a plus.

"Of course, if I were to actually win, prevail on this case, I mean, that would certainly put me on the map and boost my chances of success in the mayor's race," said Mann.

Mann said his informal polling, while handing out slingers door-to-door, indicated that people sense an inevitability about the stadium project.

"I hear very common opinion is that this a done deal and there is no way to fight it," said Mann. "I think there is a sense of helplessness, not that people do not oppose this (spending for the stadium). It is they feel like they cannot, cannot fight it."

Asked about the recent court problems facing the Wilf family, owners of the Vikings, in New Jersey, Mann said they are not "relevant" to his case. He did say that Gov. (Mark) Dayton and other state leaders should have known about the 20-year-old real estate deal in the New Jersey case. A New Jersey judge accused the Wilf's of "fraud" in the case.

"I do not know why they are so shocked about it now," said Mann.

Mann said he was not allowed to bring other issues into his case for his writ.

"That is not an issue that was brought up in my petition. The Judge could rule in favor of the other side if I disregard the rules."

Judge Bush is not expected to rule in Mann's case until next week, at the earliest.

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