Common Cause Georgia (CCGA) on Wednesday filed a second petition request with Atlanta Municipal Clerk Rhonda Johnson in the group’s effort to place public funding of a $1 billion stadium for the Falcons in downtown Atlanta up for public vote.
This group said its second petition request is a result of Atlanta City Attorney Cathy Hampton’s statement Friday asserting there is no loophole that would allow Common Cause to challenge the City Council’s decision to move forward on the stadium without a voter referendum.
On Thursday, William Perry, executive director of CCGA, announced that his group had found a loophole in the Atlanta city code that would allow a referendum to overturn City Council approval of at least $200 million in public funding for a new $1 billion Falcons stadium.
Hampton declared that the loophole was closed long ago, by the Georgia Supreme Court, saying:
“No such ‘loophole’ exists. During a public work session on March 14, 2013, the Law Department advised the Atlanta City Council that Georgia Supreme Court case law prohibits a referendum as requested by Common Cause.
“In 1998, the Supreme Court of Georgia decided the case of Kemp v. Claxton, which clearly precludes Common Cause’s ability to present this referendum. If Mr. Perry has more recent Georgia Supreme Court case law to the contrary, the City will review it.In the absence of such authority, a petition to undo the lawful actions of the Atlanta City Council is invalid.”
Common Cause, though, looks to be moving forward with its latest request.
“We want to avoid unnecessary legal battles with the City, since the core principle here is the right of Atlanta’s voters to use initiative and referendum, as recognized in the City’s own Charter and ordinances, to put into legal effect those voters’ widespread opposition to their public money being used to finance in part a new stadium,” said Wyc Orr, a member of CCGA’s Board of Directors.
CCGA Executive Director William Perry added, “The Supreme Court case referred to by the City Attorney basically says that a city cannot hold a referendum without approval by the state legislature unless such referendum is held to amend a city charter.”
Having seemingly found another loophole, Common Cause is seeking to repeal the resolution that authorized public funding of the stadium.
“We are seeking to amend the City Charter to block public financing of the project with hotel/motel tax revenue,” said Perry, “which meets the criteria established by the court.”
This action from CCGA follows the group’s initial attempts to block the stadium funding without a vote from Atlantans.
Mayor Kasim Reed has yet to respond to the group’s latest action, but did issue a statement about Common Cause and its initial challenge of the City Council vote to authorize the hotel/motel tax money, which will be an initial investment of $200 million and could cost up to $900 million, according to estimates.
“William Perry is sacrificing the reputation of a once venerable and well-respected organization for the sake of furthering his own personal ambition,” Reed said in a statement. “His attempt to derail the stadium development is a losing proposition. The state-of-the-art facility is going to help strengthen the city’s $10 billion tourism and convention industry and the 220,000 jobs it supports, spur economic development in the surrounding neighborhoods, and keep the Atlanta Falcons in the heart of downtown for the next 30 years.”
The mayor was not finished.
“We have already had tangible wins because of the approved stadium development deal,” he continued. “The construction of the new stadium will create much needed-construction jobs and include opportunities for women and small business-owners. As a result of the stadium deal, Atlanta recently was named a host city for the College Football Playoff series, expected to immediately become a mega-event in the nation. The city’s Chick-Fil-A bowl will become a national semifinal once every three years, with the first Atlanta game scheduled for Dec. 31, 2016 in the Georgia Dome. The next three are planned for the new retractable-roof Falcons stadium in the 2019, 2022 and 2025 seasons. In addition, the city of Atlanta is now able to robustly compete to host a Super Bowl, perhaps as soon as 2019.
“These types of events help create and sustain jobs in our city, have a significant economic impact and help us maintain Atlanta’s position as the dominant city in the Southeastern United States. Common Cause Georgia should focus on moving our city forward, not taking us backwards.”
For their part, CCGA still expects Johnson to present the group with official copies of the petition. Once Johnson presents CCGA with the official copy of the petition, they will have 60 days to collect 35,000 valid signatures. Perry said Johnson told him she would provide the official copy “in a few days.”