Whether a case of hometown, home-spun "Don't Tread On Me" logic or just dumb luck, Wednesday's meeting of the Ramsey County Charter Commission wasn't just another meaningless arcane branch of government. Thanks to an extreme rarity and what most view as antiquated "still-on-the-books" slap of irony, a roadblock in front of the Vikings stadium could spell the end of the Arden Hills stadium site if enough Ramsey County anti-stadium zealots can get the required signatures needed for a referendum if the state approves the currently stagnant stadium bill.
In an obscure remnant of Minnesota's founding, when county rights were more important than laws being passed at the State Legislature, Ramsey County stands alone in one significant respect. There are 87 counties in Minnesota. Of those, 86 are governed under state statutes. Ramsey County is the only county in the state governed by "Home Rule."
As such, one of the major provisions is that it allows for decisions made by the county board of commissioners to be subject to a referendum.
Had the Hennepin County deal to build Target Field for the Twins been put to a vote of the entire population of the county, it almost surely would not have been approved. However, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners didn't have to deal with a charter that could throw road blocks in its way. Nobody else in Minnesota county politics operates that way … that is, except Ramsey County.
As expected, Wednesday night in Vadnais Heights, the Ramsey County Charter Commission approved the requirement that, if the Arden Hills stadium bill is passed by the state requiring a half-cent countywide sales tax, residents of Ramsey County will have the ability to step in and require that, before being enacted, the proposal must be brought to a vote of the people.
Under the rules of the charter, if the stadium bill is passed, referendum proponents would have 45 days to get signatures of 10 percent of registered voters from the last election, approximately 28,000.
In a twist of irony, the 17-member charter commission is made up of non-elected officials. They are appointed by the district court – two representing each of the seven county commissioner districts and three at-large members. Yet, the commission's decision Wednesday could set the wheels in motion to sabotage a stadium effort and potentially stop it dead in its tracks.
With a special session expected to be called in a few weeks, a stadium deal may have to be locked down to financial commitments to get passed in the first place. If it survives that barrier (depending on who you ask, that is a big "if"), it will almost surely face a minefield of anti-stadium forces that may get the bill to the ballot for the next election.
All of this begs the question: "If you put it to a vote, will more than 50 percent of Ramsey County residents vote to increase their own taxes to build a stadium while nobody else in the state sees that increase?" Votes like that are usually doomed from the start.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.