Sunday, October 16, 2011

Guest Post -- Rick Moses, Ramsey County Charter Commission

Note:  Rick Moses is a member of the Ramsey County Charter Commission. Rick wrote to this feature last week about the role the Charter Commission has played in the ongoing debate concerning a potential new stadium for the Vikings in Arden Hills. Rick has more thoughts that he wanted to share about the role of the Commission and the context in which it has acted. I present Rick's views below; I appreciate Rick's service and his candor -- Mr. D

What we heard on Tuesday night and on September 28th was a surprisingly well-informed and articulate citizenry telling us to let the people vote on the stadium. Those in favor of the vote were 13 to 1 on the first evening and 3 to 1 on Tuesday, the difference being union construction workers flooding the chambers the second evening. Those in favor of the amendment to the Charter often came up with suggestions for alternative financing for the Vikings, or voiced relevant figures and statistics. One citizen did the math and figured out that the proposed ½-cent increase amounted to a staggering 7 percent markup over the current sales tax.

On the Pro-Viking build-the-stadium-at-any-cost side, a t-shirt and bead-wearing girl said it was an important lifestyle for her. Construction workers were less articulate, blurting “We need jobs!” without saying why anyone was obligated to provide them in this way. They may as well have said “Ugg!”, caveman style.

So nine of my colleagues on the Charter Commission thought “Ugg” was a solid reason to vote no on the amendment. In so doing they ignored morality, ethics, reason and the testimony of the vast majority of the citizens who told them to vote Yes.

Discussion and debate on the stadium issue began last summer. The county attorney at the time, Mr. Caruthers, said there was no legal barrier to passing such an amendment. So any subsequent challenge by members was for show or delay, not to clear up anything.

That brings me to the operation of the Charter Commission itself. Ordinarily the 17-member body meets every 3 months. Issues can be hotly debated putting great pressure on the Chair. Most members have agendas. The members are appointed by a Ramsey County Judge after there is an opening and after they have applied. Members are not paid, tend to be older, and for some reason nearly all are men. Death is the usual reason for an opening. It is a diverse group with several walks of life represented, from lawyers to professors to retired union electricians. Nine votes are required to pass an amendment, Needless to say, that is difficult if the matter is weighty.

On the stadium issue, I found it ironic to be allied with other members who had previously tripped me up or shouted me down on other matters. Such are the dynamics of the Ramsey County Charter Commission.

Bev Aplikowski is someone I know as an expert parliamentarian. But on Tuesday night she raised a different challenge wondering aloud whether this was our proper role. (The “proper role” is a common issue at meetings.) This struck me as an already settled issue at least from a legal standpoint. But Bev had not previously raised it so I am thinking now she was grandstanding. She is a disappointment to me on this issue.

I will say again that the stadium issue is a clear case of right and wrong. It should rock you like a clap of thunder on a clear day. No clear-thinking person can get it wrong. A half-cent sales tax imposed on the populace for the benefit of a private organization is unconscionable. If it takes a Charter Amendment to undo the bad works of a renegade politician, we must do it.

What was the motivation for those who voted no? Three members were ex-mayors who may have issues with bothersome citizens. Perhaps they have visions of dollars due to an irrational belief in economic development as a result of the stadium. Or a quick fix to the cleanup problem at TCAAP. Whatever the reason, thirty pieces of silver, sparkly objects or illusory visions have all been known to dissuade people from doing the right thing. Perhaps the nine will reconsider.

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