The St. Louis City Board of Aldermen is stealing our right to vote on Stadium Funding.
Now, you might be thinking, oh, for crying out loud, let’s not rehash the initiative petition ordinance thrown out by an unelected judge. I’m not writing about that. Everything has been said. Over and over and over again.
I am writing about something different.
Little known to most St. Louis City residents, our City Charter provides us with a mechanism to overturn ordinances adopted by the Board of Aldermen and signed by Mayor Slay.
The people shall have power, at their option, to approve or reject at the polls any ordinance (except it be an emergency measure as defined in section 20 of article IV), such power being known as the referendum and to be invoked and exercised as herein provided.
The Charter goes on to describe how voters have 30 days, after the Mayor signs a law, to collect petition signatures- equal to at least 2% of all voters registered at the last mayoral election- to place the law on the ballot. With a little more than 4,000 voters signing petitions, we could force an election on Stadium Funding.
But Alderman are denying us our referendum right on this issue, and nearly every other issue, by adding what’s called an Emergency Clause to the Stadium Corporate Welfare Bill.
Board Bill 219, Section Eleven. The Board of Aldermen hereby finds and determines that this Ordinance constitutes an “emergency measure” pursuant to Article IV, Section 20 of the City Charter, because this Ordinance provides in part for public works and improvements, and as such, this Ordinance shall take effect immediately upon its approval by the Mayor as provided in 21 Article IV, Section 20 of the City Charter.
And the City Charter prevents voters from petitioning to overturn an ordinance that has an Emergency Clause.
What constitutes an Emergency?
Article IV, Section 20, St. Louis City Charter. Emergency ordinance defined. An emergency measure is any ordinance necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or providing for public work or improvements of any kind or repairs thereof, or establishing a benefit or taxing district or a sewer district, or a joint sewer district, and declared to be an emergency measure; any ordinance calling or providing for any election or vote by or submission to the people, any ordinance making an appropriation for the payment of principal or interest of the public debt, or for current expenses of the city government; any general appropriation ordinance; or any ordinance fixing any tax rate; but no ordinance granting, enlarging or affecting any franchise or amending or repealing any ordinance adopted by the people under the initiative shall be an emergency measure.
Context is important. In April 1926, when voters adopted the Referendum provision, they also adopted a plan to merge the City and County into one large municipality (which County voters rejected). The Right to Referendum was City voters way of staying in control. They did exempt “public peace, health or safety” ordinances, but they certainly never imagined it would be used on other than rare occasions. Why give yourself a right and then ensure you never get to use it?
In 1927, voters amended the Referendum provision to include “public works and improvements.” In 1927, public works and improvements meant the 20 bond issues adopted in 1923, money being used to build Civil Courts Building, Soldiers Memorial, Kiel Opera House, public waterworks, pave residential streets, creating many new parks and public spaces- improvements of benefit to the general public. It was never intended to mean subsidizing a billionaire.
In the case of the Stadium Funding Bill, the emergency has to do with “providing for public works or improvements.” If true, this bill will result in public works or improvements regardless of action by the National Football League. But it won’t. It is contingent on a private entity buying into the plan.
An emergency is something that is happening or will happen, not something that may happen.
If the Rams move, there are no public works or improvements from this ordinance. It is, therefore, not an emergency.