Does the sweetheart deal the city of Richmond inked with the Washington Redskins and the Bon Secours Health System violate Virginia’s constitution? That’s the question Paul Goldman asks in his latest email blast. Goldman directs us to Article VI, Section 9, which states, in part:
Section 9. Sale of property and granting of franchises by cities and towns.
No rights of a city or town in and to its waterfront, wharf property, public landings, wharves, docks, streets, avenues, parks, bridges, or other public places, or its gas, water, or electric works shall be sold except by an ordinance or resolution passed by a recorded affirmative vote of three-fourths of all members elected to the governing body.
No franchise, lease, or right of any kind to use any such public property or any other public property or easement of any description in a manner not permitted to the general public shall be granted for a longer period than forty years, except for air rights together with easements for columns of support, which may be granted for a period not exceeding sixty years. Before granting any such franchise or privilege for a term in excess of five years, except for a trunk railway, the city or town shall, after due advertisement, publicly receive bids therefor. Such grant, and any contract in pursuance thereof, may provide that upon the termination of the grant, the plant as well as the property, if any, of the grantee in the streets, avenues, and other public places shall thereupon, without compensation to the grantee, or upon the payment of a fair valuation therefor, become the property of the said city or town; but the grantee shall be entitled to no payment by reason of the value of the franchise. Any such plant or property acquired by a city or town may be sold or leased or, unless prohibited by general law, maintained, controlled, and operated by such city or town. Every such grant shall specify the mode of determining any valuation therein provided for and shall make adequate provisions by way of forfeiture of the grant, or otherwise, to secure efficiency…
Just a refresher: The city intends to lease the Westhampton School property to Bon Secours for 60 years (at $5,000 per year). It also failed to solicit other bids for the property.
The city could, of course, alter the terms of its proposed deal to conform with the constitution’s language and, considering the local Babbittry is four-square behind the deal, they have every incentive to see that such changes are made.
However, that the city’s leaders sold, and approved, the deal without covering their constitutional bases should not come as a great shock. In the chase for bright, shiny, economic development deals, fundamental law barely rates a second thought.
This case sounds like another opportunity for an Attorney General’s opinion.