The city attorney’s office in Kansas City is urging a Jackson County judge to reject petitions seeking a public vote on a new downtown convention hotel deal.
The initiative petition to force an election on the hotel impairs existing contracts between the city and the hotel developers and also violates Missouri’s tax increment financing law, the city argued in a legal brief filed late Wednesday.
“Just as the City Council cannot pass a law to impair its existing contracts, the citizens may not pass a law through the initiative process that would cause the city to breach binding contracts,” the city says.
The City Council in July approved a plan for an 800-room, $311 million Hyatt hotel to be built just east of the Bartle Hall ballroom.
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A group that objected to tax incentives and an exclusive catering arrangement for the project gathered sufficient petition signatures calling for a public vote on that financing deal.
But the City Council in November declined to place the petition on a ballot, arguing it was unconstitutional and violated Missouri law. The petitioners sued in Jackson County Circuit Court in December, seeking a court order and saying the city charter compels the council to let the voters have a final say on the matter.
In her reply brief, Assistant City Attorney Sarah Baxter said that just because the petitioners got the required number of signatures under the city charter, that isn’t the only consideration.
“The city has no ministerial duty to hold an election on a law simply because it is proposed by an initiative petition, when the proposed law is one the city has no authority to adopt,” she wrote.
In addition to the breach of contract argument, Baxter said the petitioners improperly try to prohibit the city from executing any downtown convention hotel TIF deal without a public vote, while state law gives the City Council the power to approve TIF-related contracts.
The petitioners have 10 days to file their rebuttal, and Jackson County Circuit Judge Jennifer Phillips will consider how to proceed.
The developers have filed a motion to intervene in the case, and all sides say they hope for a swift court resolution to determine whether the hotel project can proceed.