City: Voter petition can’t block subsidy for stadium

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence City Council will not be forced to consider a voter-led initiative that would have blocked public money from being used to subsidize any sports stadium, the city’s top lawyer said Tuesday.

In a memorandum sent Tuesday, City Solicitor Jeffrey Dana said a petition signed by more than 1,500 city residents does not comply with language in the Home Rule Charter that allows for voters to enact ordinances if they secure 1,000 signatures from city voters.

“Section 209 of the charter expressly provides that the power of initiative excludes ordinances related to the budget, capital programs, the appropriate of money, or the levy of taxes,” Dana wrote in his opinion.

The ordinance calls for no stadium to be built on the I-195 parcel that was formerly being eyed by the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox and states that no “public money from the city of Providence shall be used directly or indirectly to subsidize or otherwise provide any financial benefit to any new stadium.”

Sam Bell, who heads up the Rhode Island charter of the Progressive Democrats of America, said he started collecting signatures for the ordinance even before state officials and the owners of the PawSox said a new stadium was unlikely to be built on the vacant former highway land.

“I think it says something if the mayor’s office wants to essentially nitpick and try and find an excuse not to accept the very strongly and clearly stated will of the people,” Bell told WPRI.com. “That does not reflect well on his respect for his constituents.”

Evan England, a spokesman for Mayor Jorge Elorza, said the request for a legal opinion on the ordinance came from the City Council, not the mayor’s office.

Bell said he wants to see if the PawSox seek an alternate location to build their stadium before he decides whether to challenge the city’s position.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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