Proposition A challenge inching its way through the courts

Construction work continues on a new Cardinal stadium.

Construction work continues on a new Cardinal stadium.

By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

A lawsuit on a County Charter amendment requiring voter approval for public funding of sports stadiums began inching through the judicial system last week.

Plaintiffs want the amendment declared null and void, while defendants want the case dismissed.

St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Wallace was scheduled to conduct a second hearing on the matter Wednesday — after the Call went to press — to possibly decide whether to throw out the case.

That decision should be made by Feb. 14 when the case is set for trial.

The defendants also filed a claim against the county, asking Wallace to require a ballot referendum on the county’s appropriation for the repayment of bonds sold to help subsidize a new ballpark for the St. Louis Cardinals. The County Council has refused to put the question on the ballot. If the original suit is dismissed, this matter would go to trial Feb. 14 instead.

Voters overwhelming approved Proposition A Nov. 2, a measure requiring a public vote for any public funding of sports stadiums. The aim is to block repayment of $45 million in bonds the County Council sold to subsidize the new $397 million Cardinal ballpark.

Bondholder trustees immediately filed suit against the county and the point members of the Coalition Against Public Fund-ing for Stadiums, asking Wallace to de-clare Prop A null and void.

The measure is unconstitutional because it “contradicts the state scheme of allowing governments to sell bonds and repay debt,” attorney Ted Noel of Armstrong Teas-dale told Wallace at the first court hearing Jan. 27.

“The county ordinance cannot trump a state statute,” he said, noting, “This breaks the constitutional right of the county to set its budget.”

Defendants rebutted the claim that Proposition A is unconstitutional on its face.

The question of repayment hasn’t gone forward for voter approval so Prop A hasn’t hindered the county’s ability to repay debt, they contended. If voters reject the appropriations during an election, the defendants could bring the matter to court.

Until then, defendants only can argue Prop A is unconstitutional on its face, not what the measure could provoke, said coalition lawyer Christina Hart of Kenne-dy Hawkins.

“Judicial interference in the election process should not be allowed,” she said.

“Just the use of the word ‘state scheme’ is contradictory of any claim Prop A is unconstitutional,” Hart added. “The plaintiffs are not showing any part of the Mis-souri Constitution that Prop A violates. That’s what they have to do and they’re not doing it.”

Defendants also contend the bondholders have no claim because they purchased only moral obligation bonds, not general obligation bonds, which would have required a public vote before the council sold the bonds.

In effect, the county is not required by law to repay the bonds.

The bondholder trustees crafted the bond prospectus to include terminology for “moral obligation bonds” to avoid a public vote and therefore risked not receiving repayment from the county, Hart said

“Investors are risk-takers. That’s the risk they took,” she said.

Noel told the Call after the hearing, “The County Council has the sole discretion to make or not make the appropriations (to repay those bonds). That’s a risk we’re willing to take. We don’t take the risk that it’s the voters decision that binds the Coun-ty Council.”

The county, which is a defendant, is not defending Proposition A.

“Every day that this goes on it could result in more downgrading or less downgrading (of the county’s bond rating),” Deputy County Counselor Robert Grant told the judge. “It could potentially damage the county.”

At a recent County Council meeting, Fred Lindecke and other members of the Coalition Against Public Funding for Sta-diums urged councilmen to place the appropriation on the April 5 ballot, but the request was denied.