A man who said his signature was forged on the city of St. George incorporation petition wants leaders of the new city movement to make things right by filing a formal legal complaint with authorities. Meanwhile, three more people told The Advocate their names appeared on the petition without their consent, bringing the total number of forgeries to six.
Ronald Cain is one of three people The Advocate identified in a Thursday story saying their signatures were forged. Cain said Friday he’s waiting for St. George leaders to step up and take legal action, as indicated by statements made by St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey.
“I don’t want to file a complaint and let St. George just sit back. If they know the fraud exists as an organization, then they should take action,” Cain said. “If you hire someone or get a volunteer, you’re responsible for their conduct, in my opinion.”
A review of suspicious signatures by The Advocate on Friday also turned up three additional people who said the signatures of their names were forged.
“I never have signed and I wouldn’t have signed it even if I’d been approached,” said Jean Harmon, a neighbor of Cain’s who didn’t realize her name was on the petition until told by a reporter on Friday. “It’s so wrong and it’s kind of scary.”
Ronald Martin also said he’s not sure why his name is showing up on the petition.
Martin said he might have been in favor of the new city, “but I assure you I didn’t sign” the petition.
“I’d rather them have not done that. It’s like going to the bank and signing on a check draft,” he said.
Although her address and birthday show up on the petition next to her name, Faye Brown said she didn’t sign the document. Moreover, she said, the signature on the petition looks nothing like her own.
“I don’t sign my name like that, and I have a Better Together sign in my front yard, so it’s unlikely that I would sign (the St. George petition),” she said. “I’m not happy about it, certainly. I don’t mind it going to a vote, but I’d like it to be an honest vote.”
The St. George supporters need the signatures of 25 percent of the registered voters within the boundaries of the proposed city in order to get the matter on the ballot. The 18,000 signatures they submitted to the Registrar of Voters office are still in the process of being validated.
Rainey on Friday declined comment about the forgeries except to say organizers are “still investigating and weighing our options.”
Officials with the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department said they had not received formal complaints and had not opened up investigations as of Friday.
Elaine Lamb, registrar of voters for East Baton Rouge Parish, said her office had not reported any suspected forgeries to law enforcement.
But she declined further comment.
Of the six forgeries thus far, five were collected in June 2014. The other, showing a signature of Arleen Williams Pitcher, was collected in April 2014, according to a copy of the petition The Advocate obtained in a public records request.
The signatures were collected by four witnesses — people who collected signatures as volunteers for the St. George incorporation and oversaw the signing.
Rainey said Thursday he was already aware of two incidents of forgeries involving the Cains, and a third after being informed by The Advocate.
He said the forgeries represent isolated incidents and said leaders with the incorporation strongly condemn the behavior.
“Although these three signatures are an isolated incident — one one-hundredth of 1 percent of total signatures obtained — this behavior is contrary to the principles of our organization and is something we will simply not tolerate,” he previously said.
Mary Olive Pierson, an attorney representing the city-parish government in St. George issues, said once the petition is fully validated by the Registrar of Voters’ Office, she expects to turn over any suspected forgeries to law enforcement.
“They say these are just isolated incidents,” Pierson said. “Armed robberies are isolated incidents, too, thank God.”
The forgeries surfaced after Better Together sent a mailer out earlier this month to people whose names were on the petition, asking them to consider withdrawing their names by signing a form to be submitted to the Registrar’s Office.
The Cains, Pitcher and Brown said they realized their names appeared on the petition when they received the mailer.
“We have seen many, many instances of people who say they didn’t sign the petition and whose signature on that petition is not their signature,” said M.E. Cormier, a Better Together leader. The group on Friday posted a database to their website WithdrawStGeorge.com where people can see if their names are on the petition.
The Registrar of Voters’ Office is expected to be finished validating the signatures on the petition next week. If the St. George organizers are short on signatures, they will have 60 days to make up the difference.
The city of St. George would encompass about 100,000 people in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish. Advocates support the measure for control of local taxes and because it would help them move forward with an independent school system. Opponents are concerned about the financial impact to the parish at large.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to a technical problem, a previous version of this story erroneously posted a photo of Metro Council member Ryan Heck. The Advocate regrets the error.