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ONLY ON 3: Organizers respond to criticism of ballpark petition language

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The battle over plans for a ballpark in Wilmington continue to heat up. Yesterday, a group against using tax money to build a stadium in the Port City submitted a petition with about 4,000 signatures. If the Board of Elections verifies enough of the signatures, the City Council would have to accept the language of the petition as an ordinance or put it up for a public vote.

The petition says no city monies shall be used to fund any multi-use sports stadiums for professional sports or other events. City leaders, though, say the language in the petition is too broad, and could hurt other teams that use city facilities, like the Sharks and Hammerheads.

"The Sharks and the Hammerheads are not paying the full rate (to rent city stadiums)," Mayor Bill Saffo said. "We subsidize some of those services. We'll have to take a look at that if that petition is put on the ballot and is passed by the citizens of this community."

The petition also drew harsh criticism from Councilman Kevin O'Grady, who thinks many of those people who signed the petition did not understand the implications of it.

"When you're driven by ideology, which is what this is, you make mistakes, and they made a big mistake here; a mistake which, if the citizens buy it, will affect the future of this city," O'Grady said.

In response, the petitions organizers, Joshua Fulton and Ben McCoy, issued this statement to WWAY:

"We never intended our petition to target funding for Legion Stadium, and we have spoken to lawyers who think that it does nothing of the sort. Recent statements by City Council members indicating that our petition does target funding for Legion Stadium are little more than a transparent attempt to discredit the petition and to confuse the issue.

"The truth of the matter is that we attempted to confer with the City Attorney's office regarding their interpretation of our petition language. Although the Attorney's office was perfectly willing to communicate their interpretation to the press, they completely refused to communicate any such information to us. Instead we were told we should obtain legal representation if we wanted any 'advice' on the language. A golden opportunity to potentially iron any kinks in the language was missed due to an adversarial, instead of collaborative, attitude.

"The City Council can fund anything that it wants to fund, and they are only challenged when a citizen files a lawsuit against the city with their own money; sues the city in a court of law, and wins the case. No one is going to undertake such a task over anything that is currently funded, including but not limited to Legion Stadium. If the city cuts funding for Legion Stadium, it will not be because of our petition, but because of an egregious attempt to use our petition as a political football in an effort to strike at the citizens they are sworn to serve.

"The citizens of Wilmington have spoken loud and clear that they want no part of their tax dollars funding a stadium for private enterprise to profit from. The City Council is aware of this reality, but have chosen not to ensure that the issue will be put to a referendum of the voters of the city, and have left citizens with no choice, but to enact the legal mechanism afforded to them through the city charter. Had the voters of Wilmington been in favor of a taxpayer-funded stadium, our petition would have never gained any traction, and certain members of the City Council's plans would have continued unhindered."

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