As all of you should know—primarily because you have the exact same priorities in your life as I do and therefore have spent the past 8ish months doing nothing but drooling in front of your computer and waiting for Jason LaConfora to tweet about what Stan Kroenke’s pooping habits could mean for potential NFL relocation—the proposed stadium on St. Louis North riverfront scored a major coup yesterday as St. Louis City judge Robert Frawley stuck down a city ordinance requiring a public vote from St. Louis residences in order for the city to use any public money to fund the new facility.
Anyways, long story short, I just wanted to share some thoughts on the judge’s decision and its potential repercussions towards the new Riverfront stadium here in St. Louis, mostly due to the fact that I am unusually bored for a Monday afternoon and this episode of The Bachelor in Paradise won’t load on my work computer, which means that my boss likely thinks that I am currently looking at porn, and I now have nothing to lose employment wise. Anyways, here goes nothing.
1) There will be no public vote in the city to fund the new stadium-Meaning that the stadium funds will be approved by the mayor and, presumably, the board of alderman, i.e. the people that city resident’s voted into office to represent their interests. As I said I do not have a problem with this, due to the fact that this is how a representative democracy should work. For example, I wouldn’t want to lose my city's public education funding because the Koch brothers were able to convince enough voters that people who cannot afford private school are too poor to learn how to read. This is why we limit the Koch brothers’ election winning abilities to less concerning matters, like who is going to control Congress or be nominated by the GOP to run for president.
The issue at play in this particular court decision centered around referendum passed by St. Louis city voters in 2002 stating that any taxpayer assistance for sports facilities must be approved by a citywide ballot measure, a referendum that was thrown out by judge Frawley yesterday because, in his opinion, it was vaguely worded and unenforceable. The basis for this argument can be found in the referendum’s prohibiting of any direct or indirect financial assistance whatsoever for new sports stadiums in St. Louis without a public vote, without the rest of the referendum bothering to delineate what exactly constituted direct or indirect financial assistance, and what kind of distinctions can be made between what sort of actions required a public vote and what sort of actions would not.
Why is this lack of clarity important? Because, in a creative paraphrase of what the Regional Sports Council and its lawyers argued during the court proceedings, let’s say, for instance, that a fan got hurt because he or she was trying to walk into the new riverfront stadium hammered drunk and happened to take a wrong step, trip over their shoelaces and fall to the sidewalk, where their face made direct contact with the concrete and they wound up smashing their nose to smithereens.
Wouldn’t an ambulance that was subsequently called to that stadium to take said fan to the hospital be a form of indirect public assistance to the successful operation of a sports stadium since, like, our money is paying for it? Isn’t a Metrolink train making a stop at Busch Stadium a form a transportation subsidy provided by the public in order to make the venue more accessible? Aren’t the police officers that direct traffic outside of the facility after the game doing so while working on the taxpayer’s dime?
The answer, according to Judge Frawley’s interpretation of the referendum and how it is written, is that yes, all of these things are forms of indirect financial assistance and therefore, if the law were upheld, each of these acts would require a public vote before they could be done, making the law impossible to enforce unless we intend to have public votes every 25 seconds because Jim from Affton clogged the Scottrade Center’s toilet and we had to get a waste management expert from MSD down to the arena to unclog the crapper again. That is why the law was invalidated: because public votes for such a wide variety of issues would be impossible organizational tasks as well as a waste of time for the 9 retired people who would turn out in St. Margaret of Scotland church basement to weigh in on these minuscule issues 14 times on a random Tuesday.
Long story still long, if a law cannot be reasonably enforced then it cannot, in fact, be a law. That premise seems pretty fair. It is why picking your nose in public is not illegal. It’s also, given that logic, why I am not currently in jail.
2) This doesn’t mean the people aren’t being represented-I cannot say this enough, which is why I will say it again: just because there is not a citywide ballot measure to approve the city’s portions of the funds for a new football stadium doesn’t mean that the thing is being done behind the citizens’ backs. The city’s portion of the stadium’s funding, as well as the vast majority of the rest of the city’s $1 billion yearly budget, will be approved by the mayor and the board of alderman, just like budget appropriations at the state and national level are authorized by their respective legislatures.
If you don’t like your respective alderman voting for the stadium funding, then check his or her opponents name in the next election. I, for one, do not like the fact that one of the United States Senators tasked with representing me doesn’t seem to want to stop people from getting their homes or businesses inevitably flooded. So guess what? In 2016 he ain’t getting my vote. Guess what else? It doesn’t matter. He’s going to win anyways. Because a lot of other people in my state do not learn from floods. That’s why there is at least one Smoothie King location that some day will once again be located under water and become especially difficult to travel to for my morning Cucumber Orange Cooler and ensuing vomit session when I realize just how gross non-pickled cucumbers are in the alleyway outside my apartment.
3) By the way this isn’t a conspiracy-I have no idea if Judge Frawley loves the Rams, hates the Rams, or if he wears a Nick Foles mask while making love to his wife. What I do know is this: the man is a judge. A legal expert. He went to law school and then had what I can only assume is a successful career in the law profession and then got appointed to the bench and is still there. He wasn’t bought off to give this ruling on this case. No one bribed him to make this decision. He adjudicated the case based on his own logic and his best interpretation of the law.
You can think he’s dumb. I’m personally not sure that Samuel Alito knows how time works. But Judge Frawley made this decision based on his own legal judgment, judgment that he has the ability to utilize to uphold or dismiss laws and you don’t. We have judges for a reason; to review our laws and make sure that they are applied evenly and equitably and within a justifiable framework. Some of them are great at their jobs. Some of them suck. It just depends on what side of the aisle you are sitting on when they make a decision you care about.
(Full disclosure: I love Judge Frawley. I cannot wait to buy the man 700 Natural Lights. And if you consider that bribery…then you are right. Natural Light is the purest form of hydration that the world has ever known.)
4) Judge Frawley also weighed in on the other stadium lawsuit-Namely the lawsuit that a group of 6 Missouri legislatures levied against Governor Nixon in Cole County in attempt to stop him from extending the bond payments that were originally used to finance the Edward Jones Dome on the state level in order to pay for the new stadium. The main crux of the legislators' argument is centered around one word in the Regional Sports Authority Charter which allows the governor to extend bonds to finance any facility that is “adjacent” to the convention center on his own authority.
I have my own theory about this lawsuit—basically that is a nonsensical attempt by one senator to defund the project after the state legislature all but approved it by refusing to back either said senator’s proposed legislation or budget amendments aimed at trying to force legislative approval before the governor could be allowed to extend the bonds—but independent of that, Judge Frawley made it very clear that he would have thrown this lawsuit out on legal grounds if he were presiding over it, and in making his opinion known he also set a precedent both for the judge in Cole County and the NFL itself to rely on.
“’Adjacent’ has been commonly been interpreted by Missouri courts to mean ‘near or close at hand,’” Frawley wrote in his ruling, “and not necessarily as contiguous.” What Judge Frawley did in this ruling is prove that previous Missouri case law has shown that properties can be considered adjacent even if they aren’t necessarily touching, as long as they are separated by roads or highways or streams or something of that ilk, as opposed to, say, another piece of property. For instance, under Missouri law, your house at 210 Robert Quinn Way and your next door neighbor’s house at 212 Robert Quinn Way are considered to be adjacent to each other, obviously, while you and the chap who lives on the other side of your next door neighbor at 214 Robert Quinn Way do not have adjacent domiciles because of that aforementioned and pesky next door neighbor’s house at 212 constituting property that is dividing his land from yours.
But what about you and the fellow across the street at 211 Robert Quinn Way? Well under the law, or at least Judge Frawley’s interpretation of it and the way its been enforced in the past, your houses are adjacent to one another, since they are separated by an unowned road and not another piece of private property. Under this definition the site of the new proposed riverfront stadium is, in fact, adjacent to the convention center since the two are separated by Broadway and Interstate 44, and not by any other property that can be claimed by any other party, just as your house is adjacent to the one across the street for the very same reason.
Now to my knowledge this decision by Judge Frawley is not binding; the judge in Cole County is under no obligation to follow it. And, in an admission I should have made long ago in this article, I am not, as they say, a “lawyer.” But given the sited evidence and ease of explanation with which Judge Frawley covered this particular topic—and almost none of the other ones he addressed in his opinion—his definition of the word “adjacent” appears to be pretty logical and arduous to argue with, facts that would certainly seem to make it fairly easy for the judge presiding over the state lawsuit against the stadium to simply use Frawley’s ruling as a straightforward and tidy justification for coming to the very same conclusion.
5) I think we’re unlikely to see an appeal-It is no secret that the city’s leadership is behind the stadium project, and not necessarily interested in attempting to unravel a legal thread that will put the city’s future as a home to a NFL franchise in jeopardy, either through timing or an inability to finance the stadium outright. The city defended its own ordinance vigorously—or at least claimed to—because it is their job to protect the laws that its own citizens or their representatives have passed. However, now that the case has been decided, it appears likely to me that the city and its leadership will be fine with washing their hands of the entire thing and adhering to the judge’s decision (Mayor Slay's Chief of Staff Ellen Ponder maintains that the city has not decided whether or not to appeal).
There will be other’s who want to appeal of course, led by SLU Law Professor John Ammann and his clients who tried to intervene in the RSA vs. the City case that Judge Frawley just decided only to be rebuked strongly by said judge and given no legal standing in the cases’ proceedings, a decision which, it would appear, would also give the professor no legal standing in the case moving forward. There are also sure to be a few alderman out there who will attempt to make waves about the lack of a public vote and try to introduce some sort of measures that, in their minds anyway, will be able to rectify the situation and bring the matter to the voters because its 2015 and those kind of political appeals to your constituency can play quite well nowadays.
In the end, however, the city portion’s of the financing looks to be secure, and for good reason considering it is being derived mainly from a hotel/motel tax that will only affect city residences if they have a propensity for living in a Holiday Inn Express.
6) Where do we go from here?-This really is a pretty big judicial decision in terms of getting the stadium project done in my opinion, and not just because it frees up the $60 million or so that the city would pay to the proposed venue. The ruling does a couple of other things to crystalized the solid, incremental progress that Bob Blitz and Dave Peacock have been making towards getting the structure built.
First, as I've said earlier, it sets a strong judicial precedent that will hopefully help to inform the way that the case in Cole County is adjudicated. Second, it sends a strong message to owners around the NFL that the potential impediments to the stadium project here in St. Louis are being removed and that the land acquisition and funding situations should be resolved very quickly. Third, it further distinguishes the progress being made by the team here in St. Louis from what are, let’s be honest, their competitors in terms of retaining a NFL franchise in Oakland and San Diego.
While Oakland’s stadium progress is spiraling so severely that the county is looking to cash out of its stadium “proposal,” and the land it already co-owns with the city, altogether and San Diego continues to make absolutely zero progress in the minds of anyone who is reasonable and understands how these kind of deals get done, the powers that be in St. Louis are making constant strides towards beginning construction on our own brand new state of the art facility by early next year at the latest; and they’re doing it right before a pivotal meeting of NFL owner’s in Chicago to assess this very situation to boot.
Governor Nixon, Dave Peacock, Big-time Bob Blitz and company still may be unable to get the ball across the goal line and get a new football stadium built on the Mighty Mississippi. And, even if they do get a deal done, there is no guarantee that Commissioner Goodell and the rest of the league fat cats will not pull the rug out from under us and leave St. Louis without a team once again just because they are rich dudes who love money. But, at the end of the day, the NFL needs 2 new stadiums in 2 cities. Only one of them can be Los Angeles.
St. Louis is making assiduous headway in our endeavor to be the other. Our city hasn’t checked all the boxes yet. However, at the rate we are going, it looks like we will. Sooner rather than later.
And hopefully within a timeframe that any fair person would say has been quick enough.