|The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 22, 2007 - It's bad enough that hotelier Harris Rosen is putting his own financial interest ahead of the community in his one-man crusade against three important downtown venues.
But the petition drive Mr. Rosen is mounting to sabotage a new arena, performing-arts center and refurbished Florida Citrus Bowl is even worse than that. It strikes at the very idea of representative government. It's also blatantly unconstitutional, so the only thing Mr. Rosen is likely to accomplish by all this is to cost taxpayers money in legal bills and, maybe, higher borrowing costs.
Some friend of the people is Mr. Rosen.
Voters would be smart to see through this cynical effort to hoodwink them. Better yet, Mr. Rosen should accept that he lost this fight and that the hotel tax was not created just to fill his hotels.
Fat chance. Mr. Rosen is nothing if not determined to squeeze every penny from the tax to promote tourism, even though the law allows it to be used for the signature entertainment and cultural facilities that great cities enjoy.
And how's this for Mr. Rosen's principled stand: His attorney submitted two different petitions to Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles and both aim to change the county's charter. One petition would require voters to approve the construction of any arena, stadium or performing-arts-center project valued at more than $25 million. The other is worded almost identically, but it omits the popular performing-arts center from the voter requirement.
If this is all about giving voters a say, why would Mr. Rosen entertain the idea of exempting the $425 million performing-arts center? Could it be that he's smart enough to know that the performing-arts center is popular enough to sink his petition drive?
The point is, voters elect county commissioners to make these decisions. And commissioners voted 5-2 to build these venues after unprecedented public input and scrutiny. Orlando's City Council ultimately voted unanimously for these venues.
If voters disagree with those decisions, they can vote against these commissioners when they face re-election. Given that there has been so little public opposition to the venues, that's not likely to happen.
But here's what really stinks.
Even if Mr. Rosen's petition drive succeeds, it's doubtful it would stop construction of the venues. Florida's constitution clearly doesn't allow laws passed retroactively that would violate existing contracts, and the city plans to issue bonds for the arena in November. Of course, it could take a team of taxpayer-paid lawyers to argue that in court. And what if Mr. Rosen's selfish gambit makes investors nervous? The costs to issue the bonds could rise, and taxpayers would pay the price.
Mr. Rosen ought to move on. Being a sore loser is one thing, but costing taxpayers money is inexcusable.
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