River Campus issue deserves speedy ruling

Thursday, September 27, 2001

Cape Girardeau's effort to join Southeast Missouri State University in funding its River Campus has attracted the attention of other Missouri cities, not because they favor the city participating in the endeavor, but because they fear the effects an appellate court's ruling against Cape Girardeau might have on them.

St. Louis and Kansas City, along with the Missouri Municipal League, which lobbies on behalf of its member cities, and the Missouri attorney general's office have filed briefs with the Missouri Supreme Court supporting Cape Girardeau in its legal battle with businessman James L. Drury over funding of the proposed campus at the old St. Vincent seminary in Cape Girardeau.

In June, the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District sided with Drury in ruling that the title of an August 1998 Cape Girardeau ordinance that provided for a city vote on a tax issue to help fund the campus violated the Missouri Constitution and the city's own charter because it didn't describe how the money would be used.

The city appealed to the state high court. In their briefs, St. Louis, Kansas City, the municipal league and attorney general's office urged the court to take up the matter. On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court decided to do so.

The other cities and the state all are interested because they fear that if the appellate court's ruling stands, an untold number of ordinances passed by municipalities and perhaps even state statutes could be jeopardized.

At issue are the "honest title" provisions of the state Constitution and the Cape Girardeau City Charter. Those provisions require that the title of legislation accurately reflect a measure's content in order to guard against passage of misleading legislation.

The title of the ordinance in question called for raising the city's hotel, motel and restaurant tax by 1 cent and placing the question on the ballot. The Court of Appeals agreed with Drury that two sections of the ordinance were not covered by the title. Those sections specified that the money would be spent on the River Campus if the project went forward and that the tax would end if the state and university failed to secure their shares of funding by Dec. 31.

The matter has become as important to every Missouri city as it is to Cape Girardeau and the university, and the high court has acknowledged its importance by deciding to take up the case. The court now should place a high priority on ruling on the case so that Cape Girardeans know where they stand in regard to funding the university's River Campus.

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