An anti-St. George group is trying to convince people who signed the petition to form a new city to change their minds.
A glossy, six-page color pamphlet was mailed out Monday to about every person named on the St. George petition, encouraging them to remove their signatures.
Dianne Hanley, a leader with Better Together/Residents Against The Breakaway, said volunteers spent the past few months poring through a copy of the petition and preparing the mailers. Hanley wouldn’t say how expensive the endeavor was, but estimated they sent out between 16,000 and 18,000 pamphlets. That likely cost thousands of dollars in publication and postage.
Here's the front of the St. George mailer people are receiving this week, asking them to remove their signature. pic.twitter.com/PTmYlq5xtX— Rebekah Allen (@rebekahallen) March 6, 2015
Hanley said the group of volunteers, who are closely associated with the faith-based advocacy group Together Baton Rouge, has been meeting in churches over the past several months. She added that some volunteers have visited the homes of people who signed the petition.
“Believe me, it’s a little nerve wracking,” she said. “But we’re simply asking them if they’d like to have their name off. If they say no, we walk away.”
An employee with the U.S. Postal Service who reviewed the postage stamp, size and weight of the mailer said on Friday that the group likely spent 24.6 cents per pamphlet to mail, so the group likely spent about $4,000 to $6,000 in postage costs alone. It’s unclear how much the production cost would be.
Rainey said the organization and financing of such a laborious task demonstrates that his opponents are not merely a “grassroots” group.
“This is obviously an extremely well-funded group, backed by very influential, powerful, wealthy people,” he said. “Don’t tell me it’s a handful of volunteers. There’s no telling how much this cost.”
Neither St. George leaders, nor organized groups opposing the incorporation, have to file political financial disclosure reports until an election has been called.
Some people who received the mailers say they felt uncomfortable about being targeted and seeing all their personal information show up on the form.
“By sending this mailer and publicly exposing the personal information of thousands of private citizens, Better Together is attempting to intimidate other potential petition signers with the threat of publicly exposing their personal information as well,” said Trey Cook, who received the mailer. “They literally have no respect for the gift of democracy.”
In response to the criticism, Hanley emphasized that the petition is a public document.
“We mailed it privately to their homes, we didn’t publicize their names,” Hanley said.
The mailer includes a letter from two residents who say they signed the petition initially, but subsequently removed their names after learning about possible tax increases and impacts to the school system.
“We signed the St. George petition. But when we saw what St. George would do to our tax bill and to our schools, we withdrew our signatures,” a letter from Richard and Sarah Chauvin, Jefferson Terrace residents, reads. “We’re writing to ask you to do the same.”
The mailer refers to media articles and a Faulk and Winkler CPA report that says taxes would likely increase in the proposed city if incorporation is successful, a claim that St. George organizers emphatically reject.
It also stresses that students would be displaced by the creation of a new school system, preventing them from attending magnet schools like Baton Rouge High.
The sponsor listed on the mailer is “Withdraw St. George” and it refers readers to a website by the same name.
The Better Together/Residents against the Breakaway group aren’t mentioned anywhere on the document or the website.
But Hanley said they are not trying to deny their involvement.
“We do take ownership of it,” she said.
Last week, officials with the Registrar of Voters said 84 people had submitted forms requesting their names be removed from the petition. The office could not provide an updated number on Friday.
Since December, registrar workers have pored over the petition, which is more than 1,000 pages and has an estimated 18,000 signatures, verifying the identity of each signer. The verification process should be completed in about two weeks.
Once they finish verifying the signatures, a determination will be made as to whether St. George organizers collected enough to move the proposition to a ballot.
For the petition to succeed, it needs 25 percent of the registered voters in the proposed city limits. The necessary exact number has not yet been disclosed, but the expectation from officials on both sides is that it will be a close call. The registrar’s office has already tossed out about 13 percent of the signatures.
The front of the mailer, which is otherwise professional in its appearance, has a typo, which many St. George supporters have pointed out.
Underneath an image of someone getting an “I (heart) St. George” tattoo there is the sentence, “That doesn’t have be permanent.” It’s missing the word “to.”
“The irony of the massive typo on the front is that they say everything is fine, we’re better together and we don’t need a better education system,” Rainey said. “The glaring typo on the front of the mailer speaks volumes.”
The St. George effort is rooted in the desire to create an independent school system in the southeast part of the parish.
The St. George city boundaries cover the entire southern portion of the parish, encompassing about 80 square miles and roughly 100,000 people.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/