(From left) Joe Sommer, Jon Beard and Doug Zimmerman delivered petitions to Columbus City Hall last week to put City Council's arena-bailout decision on the ballot for voters to decide.
If you’re a taxpayer and have ever felt guilty about not supporting the local professional hockey franchise Jonathan Beard and the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (CCRG) have some good news. Surprise! You’ve been doing it all along. Don’t you feel better? The CCRG is looking to change a 2011 council ordinance it believes has circumvented the will of the voters, leading to them paying for Nationwide Arena despite not having agreed to doing so at the ballot box. “This is about public trust and accountability of public officials,” said Beard, who is president and CEO of Columbus Compact Corporation. “Are they accountable to what we say as voters?” In Oct. of 2011 Columbus City Council approved using casino revenue to purchase Nationwide Arena for $42.5 million and provide millions more to operate the facility through 2039. This despite the voters having said no to public-financed sports stadiums on multiple occasions, most recently in 1997. The CCRG is looking to put an initiative on the ballot in May that would require voter approval to continue the relationship behind 2016. If voters do not approve the ordinance by the end of that year the city auditor would no longer be allowed to certify the payments. The group has submitted a petition with 17,000+ signatures to the city clerk. Beard expects it to be ratified and sent to council this Monday, where it will be returned to the BOE and voted on this spring. “We want to get the city and the arena to come to the voters and make their case,” he said. “This gives them a few years.” The rationale behind the original ordinance was that the city couldn’t afford to lose the Arena’s primary tenant, the National Hockey League’s Blue Jackets. The thought was that if the financially struggling franchise left the city for a more favorable deal elsewhere, it would take jobs and economic development with it. It’s an argument Beard doesn’t buy. “I’ve yet to see a study that says there is a net economic benefit (to professional sports team),” he said. “You’re just displacing revenue from elsewhere.” Which is not to say Beard and his organization are against the team. “This isn’t not an anti-Blue Jackets thing, it’s a good government thing. It’s a question of whether we should be subsidizing the profits of a set of very wealthy business owners.” Beard wouldn’t speculate on what he thought the voters would do, “I’ll leave it up to the voters,” he said. “Our whole thing is that the people have the right to decide.”

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