Shoveling dirt | Star Tribune/Glen Stubbe photograph
by Steve Timmer
Jan 14, 2014, 8:00 PM

These men shovel dirt

On this man:

Doug Mann

Doug Mann (via

Doug Mann, perennial Minneapolis School Board candidate and candidate for Minneapolis mayor last fall, started a pro se action last summer to compel a city-wide referendum on the new Viking stadium finance package:

Mann said he will file his petition for a writ of mandamus that seeks a public referendum on use of city sales taxes to help finance the edifice, as authorized by the Legislature.

He wants the court to order that the city follow a provision of its charter that requires voter approval when more than $10 million in city funds are spent on an athletic facility.  The city is expected to note that the legislation overrides that charter provision.

The city will finance its portion of the stadium using a suite of sales taxes – a citywide sales tax, downtown restaurant and liquor taxes and a hotel tax. Those taxes currently pay for the city’s convention center, but money will be freed up when debt on that facility is paid in 2020.The total city subsidy is $309 million, or $678 million when accounting for interest over the life of the deal.

Well, the city did “note” the override, and the Hennepin County District ruled that both Mann and the city were right. It did violate the charter, but the state overrode the charter with the stadium legislation. That decision is now on appeal.

Before going any further, I’ll ask the question: What is the difference between the convention center and the stadium? Because therein hangs a tale.

In recent days, Mr. Mann — who it should be apparent to you by now is a tenacious fellow — filed a second lawsuit, this time to stop the sale of the stadium bonds. But as the Strib says, he has a new argument; frankly, it’s a really good one:

Mann’s Supreme Court challenge uses a new argument. Specifically, he cites Article X, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution. That section states: “The power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended or contracted away.” The language is relatively common among state constitutions nationally.

He further cites an 1864 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, saying “that a tax cannot be imposed exclusively on any subdivision of the state, to pay an indebtedness or claim which is not peculiarly the debt of such subdivision or to raise money for any purpose not peculiarly for the benefit of such subdivision.”

In other words, a tax cannot be imposed on Minneapolis to pay for something “not peculiarly for the benefit” of Minneapolis.

Note that Mr. Mann raises a state constitutional issue, not a city charter one. It is a direct attack on the action of the Legislature in approving the stadium deal.

And man, oh man, the wailing and squealing of high-priced lawyers and stadium officials about what a scoundrel Doug Mann (actually, there are three plaintiffs in the most recent suit) is can be heard in Nebraska. We were on the brink of selling bonds! Jim Schowalter had a non-refundable flight!

This has been litigated before; this is frivolous! Baloney squared. As the Stib notes, it is a new issue raised in the recent suit, and it not only not frivolous, I think it’s a winner.

If it is an unconstitutional deal, it’s an unconstitutional deal whether the suit comes before or after the bond sales.

But to me, the real question is: Why didn’t all you bright lights, doing all your thinking at public expense, think of this before? The Strib notes that the provision in the Minnesota Constitution raised by Mr. Mann is a common one, and apparently so well understood that a precedent from 1864 is still good. It is pretty sensible, really.

Suppose we decided that all the swells who live in, say Dellwood, could afford a 1/2 percent sales tax to help out the people in St. Paul. Or perhaps we could impose an extra income tax just on the people who are lucky enough to live in Minnetonka Beach to contribute to the state’s coffers. The people in Dellwood and Minnetonka Beach would be pretty sore, wouldn’t they?

No less a light than the Dithering Prince of Maple Grove has said that the Vikings are an asset to the state, not just Minneapolis. The stadium won’t be owned by the citizens of Minneapolis; the Convention Center is.

Now that Doug Mann, and a couple of others, threaten to bring down this whole rotting, soft-shoe facade, well, he’s the villain.

I don’t think so.

But it is being handled in the standard way of the world; if you can’t win on the merits, win on the money. The stadium forces say: put up a big bond, Mr. Mann, or you can’t play the game, mere citizen that you are.

But there is another way, of course. If, as the stadium’s lawyers say, Doug Mann’s suit is so frivolous, let them issue an unqualified bond opinion and let the sales proceed!

This would be really putting one’s money where one’s mouth is, but it will never happen, because deep in their hearts, they know that Doug Mann is on to something.

Update: Commenter Joe says:

My favorite political picture in all of Minnesota history. This is a picture of Dayton’s demise. Deer in the headlights and all. However, I wish he were a true progressive.

Part of the genius of the photo was just getting into the right spot to take it. That is one of the often-great things about Glen Stubbe’s photography: the knack for getting the unusual perspective. You can bet that the governor and other ground breakers won’t let it happen again.

But I don’t think the photo is Governor Dayton’s demise, and I don’t think it ought to be. I am not always happy with his decisions, but I think Mark Dayton has been a good governor, and I expect that he will be re-elected.

Thanks for your feedback. If we like what you have to say, it may appear in a future post of reader reactions.