Leaders of the effort to create the new city of St. George are remaining calm and planning their next move in the midst of what appears to be a devastating blow to the future of the new city.
On Tuesday, St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey said the group is in fact-finding mode, trying to identify potential errors in the Registrar of Voters petition verification process that could help them challenge the results in court. But the group’s leaders on Tuesday also recognized that it’s possible they may have to consider other options if they’re unable to mount a strong enough legal case.
“There’s definitely room for a margin of error so we want to make sure all of the signatures that were supposed to be counted were counted,” Rainey said. “But if it was accurate, we will move on to the next stage.”
Rainey said he’s not prepared to discuss the group’s plans going forward if it decides not to legally challenge the determination that the petition lacked sufficient signatures.
“All I can tell you is that the desire to have a public education system that serves all children is not dead,” he said.
Over the weekend, the registrar announced the petition process seeking to call an election to create the new city of St. George came up short 71 names. The result means there can be no election, and the entire petition is voided.
Rainey said St. George leaders have requested data from the Registrar’s Office, including a list of people whose names were removed from the petition because they were considered ineligible or because they turned in a withdrawal petition.
The group will publish the lists and scour the data in search of any examples of names that were wrongfully removed.
“We owe it to the nearly 18,000 people who signed this petition to see this through and ensure that no stone was unturned and every signature counted,” he said.
But if that process fails to yield tangible evidence that can be used in court, Rainey said, the group will pivot to another plan.
Mary Olive Pierson, attorney for city-parish government in its fight against St. George, said she didn’t think St. George has a strong legal case to challenge the petition results.
She noted that it’s uncharted legal territory in Louisiana. But, she said, St. George advocates would have to present enough concrete examples of mistakes made by the Registrar’s Office to have made a difference in that office’s determination that the signature count had fallen short.
The Saturday announcement, certified by new Registrar of Voters Steve Raborn, stands to put an end to 21 months of petitioning by advocates of the proposed new city who want more control over taxes and an independent school system.
They needed to collect signatures on a petition from 25 percent of the registered voters in the proposed boundaries, which would have been 17,859.
The registrar announced that the group had only 17,788 valid signatures.