Organized opposition to conference center emerges

Editor's note: This article expands and updates Conference center opposition organizes posted on Thursday.

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An organized opposition to the proposed conference center has emerged and filed two notices stating an intent to begin the initiative petition process.

The Citizens Against Convention Center Committee filed two notices of intent with the city clerk’s office Wednesday, intending to begin the initiative petition process to offer to the City Council two potential ordinances opposing the conference center.

Tim Stallman, Charles and Ann Gaskin, Jerome L. Knollmeyer and Glen Costales make up the committee and have filed the ordinances. One ordinance would seek to eliminate the 4 percent lodging tax dedicated to conference center funding and stop the city from using any tax or public money from construction of a convention center.

The second ordinance would stop the city from using any tax or public money for the construction of a convention center, but would leave the 4 percent lodging tax in place.

Stallman, chairman of the Citizens Against Convention Center Committee, said in a press release Thursday the committee believes the residents deserve a vote on the multi-million dollar convention center issue and the committee is the beginning of organized opposition to the project.

“The taxpayers of Jefferson City have not been given a real voice in the decision to spend $10 (million) to $20 million dollars of tax money on these proposals,” Stallman said in the release. “These proposed ordinances will set in motion a plan to provide for elections to decide what the public really wants.”

The City Council is in the process of considering two proposals for a conference center, which would use $9 million in lodging tax contributions for construction of the facility. The two proposals are from Farmer Development, which would place the facility at the Capital Mall, and Ehrhardt Hospitality Group, which would use the West McCarty Street site.

Stallman said in his release the 4 percent lodging tax approved by voters in 2011 did not specifically state anything about a convention center, only that the money be used for promotion of tourism.

The ballot language used for the lodging tax increase did state the money would be used for the promotion of tourism, but the increase was marketed to voters as being a way to fund a conference center.

Per the City Charter, the notices must be reviewed by the city attorney, Drew Hilpert, who will either approve or disapprove within 10 days of submission. If Hilpert does not approve, an itemized list of needed corrections will be provided.

If the notices are approved, the committee then will begin collecting signatures of registered voters, of which the committee would need 1,191, or 25 percent of the total number of ballots cast for mayor in the last municipal general election. The signatures must be verified by the city clerk, then the petition and ordinances would be presented to the City Council. The City Council could either approve and enact the ordinances as they are or put them on a ballot within one year.

The city charter states the initiative petition “shall not extend to any ordinance relating to appropriation of money, levy of taxes, or zoning.” Hilpert said he will need to review that aspect of the charter and the notices carefully in the next 10 days.

When asked about that portion of the charter, Stallman said the committee submitted two separate ordinances for a reason.

“The committee will decide later which of the two ordinances to proceed with after getting comments back from the city,” Stallman said. “We citizens deserve an honest and fair election on this expensive and foolish plan. We had an election that defeated this plan once, it was called Transformation, and it lost by almost two-to-one. The City Council needs to abide by that election.”

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