The vote to incorporate behind them, St. George supporters still face daunting challenges ahead as they go about setting up East Baton Rouge Parish's fifth city following a contentious battle with the city-parish over the past year.
Voters in the southeast corner of the parish won the battle with 54 percent of the vote Saturday night, and both sides must now come to the table to negotiate how municipal services will be shared or divided between both entities.
But that can't happen until Louisiana’s governor appoints an interim mayor and city council members to lead the negotiations with the city-parish, and those appointments won't happen until 30 days after the results from Saturday's election are verified by the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office.
Voters in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish decided Saturday to create the city of St. George, with 54% of the voters within the St. George bo…
Drew Murrell, spokesman for the St. George campaign, said proponents have pinned Jan. 1, 2020, as their target to have everything locked in place for the new city's operation. He recognizes, though, that the city-parish could mount legal challenges that might delay the process.
"I think the vote pretty clearly shows we wanted something different," Murrell said Sunday. "It would be a shame if the parish used taxpayers dollars to sue parish citizens."
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome says it's "too early" to talk about possible litigation.
"Right now, we're just going to assess the situation and then we'll move forward as we believe best for everyone," Broome said in a telephone interview shortly after the election was called Saturday night.
It’s not just Broome’s administration that St. George backers have to be concerned about.
According to Louisiana Revised Statute 33:4, any person living within the proposed incorporation area, or someone who owns lands within the proposed St. George boundaries, can legally contest the incorporation. Any municipality which "might be adversely affected" or an elected official from the governing authority of that municipality can also contest the incorporation.
A district court judge would have to determine whether "incorporation is reasonable" and if the proposed municipality could provide "public services within a reasonable period of time."
Of course, what is considered reasonable would likely be open for interpretation.
"In determining whether the incorporation is reasonable, the court shall consider the possible adverse effects the incorporation may have on other municipalities in the vicinity," the law states.
Broome's administration in May released a study claiming the city-parish would lose $48.3 million annually if the St. George incorporation happened and that government agencies would need to make across-the-board cuts of at least 18%.
The City-Parish said Wednesday it would lose $48.3 million annually if residents in the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish form a se…
One possible avenue for a legal challenge is who got to vote on incorporation, and who didn’t. Only those living within the boundaries of the proposed new city were permitted to vote on the issue although the decision affects the entire parish financially and in other ways. Broome and other opponents say that’s not fair.
Approximately 59%, or 32,293 people, of the more than 54,000 registered voters living in the St. George area cast ballots Saturday in the incorporation election, according to complete but unofficial election results. The incorporation was approved by 54% of those voters, or 17,422 people, with 46%, or 14,871 people, voting 'no.'
Precincts in the Woodlawn, Shenandoah, Old Jefferson areas and along Hoo Shoo Too Road overwhelming tipped in St. George's favor. The incorporation was mostly rejected in precincts in Bayou Manchac and along parts of Highland Road, Perkins Road, Bluebonnet Boulevard and Siegen Lane.
With early voting already underway, some confusion has arisen among voters in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish over whether they'll get to vo…
St. George opponents basically argue that 17,422 people shouldn’t have the power to decide an issue that, for the foreseeable future, will have an impact on the lives of more than 440,000 people living in the entire city-parish.
While she said it was too early to talk about possible litigation, Broome noted that Saturday’s vote was only the first step in the process.
"Contrary to what people may believe, this does not happen overnight,” Broome said. “There are many steps that must occur before St. George is incorporated."
The incorporation statutes require publication of the election results and then a 30-day waiting period, at which time St. George city leaders and the city-parish will have to negotiate over what public services will continue to be provided under the city-parish's umbrella and which ones the new city will take on, and likely privatize.
With Gov. John Bel Edwards headed into a runoff for his re-election bid, Murrell expects appointing a mayor and five councilmen for St. George won't be a top priority for Edwards after the election results are certified.
As for how appointments will happen, historically the governor has used recommendations from state legislators or elected officials from a specific area to guide the decision. Some of the state legislators with constituents in the St. George area include Dan Claitor, Bodie White and Rick Edmonds.
"The governor make take their suggestions, he may not," Murrell said. "Nothing says he has to."
Those appointments will be of relatively short duration, Murrell said.
The proposed city will hold municipal elections to select a mayor, chief of police and councilmen in 2020, alongside the city-parish elections.
In the meantime, St. George organizers will prepare bids for various municipal services the city decides to take on itself. As of Sunday, Murrell said they plan to privatize the proposed city's planning, zoning and permitting. They'll also announce committees soon to gain public input on ordinances and procedures that will govern St. George.
"City ordinances will be established or grandfathered in at that point and you’ll find out where we're going to be, from a city hall standpoint, soon," he said.
Broome said she intends to move forward and continue representing the citizens within the St. George area as she’s done since taking office. She also urged that everyone else in the city-parish not get anxious over the impacts St. George will have on the rest of the parish.
"I’m going to do everything possible to keep the existing part of our city and parish intact," she said. "We’ve got to revisit all of what this means to our entire community. I’m going to be doing that in the days ahead."