Doug Mann explains why his lawsuit could derail Vikings stadium [UPDATE]
:::: UPDATE :::: Mann's lawsuit has been dismissed, clearing the path for construction of the new stadium and the adjacent downtown east development to go forward as originally planned:
-- Patrick Condon (@pcondonap) January 21, 2014
In a statement released after news of the Supreme Court's decision broke, Governor Dayton thanked the court "for its decision to dismiss this lawsuit, and for resolving this matter so expeditiously."
"Although I felt it had no merit, I was extremely concerned that this lawsuit would delay the financing of the stadium, and the progress of the $400 million development adjacent to it," Dayton continued. "Today's decision clears the way for thousands of Minnesotans to get to work on these two important projects."
(Original post from January 14) -- With little time to spare if the new Vikings stadium is to open in time for the 2016 season, the state soon needs to sell bonds to pay for the ongoing construction on the Metrodome site. Per the stadium bill, Minneapolis sales taxes will then be used to repay those bonds.
SEE ALSO: Vikings stadium design: Top 10 tweets
But that won't be the case if 57-year-old Minneapolis resident Doug Mann gets his way. Mann, an out-of-work nurse who has been putting his paralegal training to work as an amateur lawyer, recently filed a lawsuit that could prevent the state from using Minneapolis taxes to pay off the bonds. And if he's successful, not only is the stadium's construction timeline jeopardized, but so is the entire redevelopment of the adjacent Star Tribune property.
We spoke with Mann yesterday and asked him to break down his legal argument in the simplest terms possible. He explained it like this: Minnesota's constitution includes a provision that "The power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended or contracted away." But contracting away Minneapolis's power of taxation was exactly what officials did when they decided to use city sales taxes to repay state bonds, Mann argues.
"The purpose of the lawsuit is to get Minneapolis taxpayers off the hook for the obligation to pay debt service on state-issued bonds," Mann told us. "If I prevail, the Legislature will have to make some other arrangement to pay off the bonds."
But the problem for stadium supporters is that at this point, there's no time to make another arrangement.
For one, even a short delay means the stadium won't be ready for the 2016 season. Furthermore, the $400 million plan to redevelop the adjacent Star Tribune land into downtown's largest park -- featuring new office towers, 300 residential units, and retail stores -- could be jeopardized altogether in the event of a delay, as the timeframe for that project includes a number of time-sensitive agreements the city entered into with Ryan Companies.
State officials are taking Mann's lawsuit seriously, as on Sunday it was announced that the bond sale will be delayed until the legal challenge is resolved.
"One consequence of trying to hold the bond sale now is that they would have to disclose to potential buyers that there is a legal action that would jeopardize the potential repayment of bonds," Mann said. "So there's no way they can sell the bonds until they get some sort of resolution from the Supreme Court."
But how could officials possibly not see this coming? After all, the language in the aforementioned constitutional provision seems clear.
(For more, click to page two.)
"I honestly don't think they expected anybody to challenge it," Mann replied. "I think they realized there was a danger there but they didn't seriously consider the possibility of somebody going up against them and the people who are behind this thing."
"The reason [state officials] came up with this unusual financing mechanism for paying off the bonds is that they were trying to circumvent the charter provision that prevents the city of Minneapolis from incurring more than $15 million in debt for stadiums without a referendum," Mann continued.
Asked when there could be some resolution to his lawsuit, Mann said it "could be dismissed on initial review by the Supreme Court," in which case "it would be over and done with in a matter of days." But on the other hand, if the court orders both parties to the lawsuit to make oral arguments, the delay could be substantial enough to throw the project into chaos. It remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Mann says reaction to his legal challenge has been predictably mixed.
"So far I've only gotten one abusive phone call and several congratulatory ones," he said. "Stadium supporters, you know, their response has mainly consisted of name-calling... nobody is making legal arguments challenging the substance of what I'm doing."
All in all, not bad for a nurse looking for work, right?
"The legal challenge I filed could have some potential to disrupt things," Mann said. "I think I'm making a fairly solid argument as to its legality, and I think that should be a cause for concern on their part."
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