The Mall of Louisiana and Baton Rouge General Medical Center have been annexed into the city of Baton Rouge, despite a suit filed last week challenging the legality of the move, an attorney representing the city-parish said.
Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who was retained by the city last week, said the annexation became official on June 13. That means city police are now being dispatched to cover the new city properties, which previously were covered by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
Her comments clash with those of former state Rep. Woody Jenkins, a vocal proponent of the proposed city of St. George, who filed a lawsuit last week contending that the annexation isn’t valid because it doesn’t meet state and local requirements for compactness. Jenkins also questioned the move’s effect on law enforcement.
St. George is not mentioned in the lawsuit, but the Mall of Louisiana has been a lightning rod in the debate over the proposed new city because it is a major sales tax revenue generator. If the annexation is voided, the Mall of Louisiana would be located in the proposed city of St. George. Should the new city successfully incorporate, it would benefit from the sales taxes generated by the retail campus.
Jenkins contends that the annexation is on hold until after a final judgment on his lawsuit is made.
“State law is very clear that when an annexation is challenged in court, the annexation does not go into effect until 10 days after a final judgment upholding the legality of the annexation,” he said.
Pierson said under the parish Plan of Government, which she said takes priority over state laws, the annexations went into effect 30 days after the council vote. She said Jenkins’ legal challenge amounts to an appeal of an annexation that is already in place, and the courts will ultimately decide if the annexation should be reversed.
A status hearing was called at 1 p.m. Monday in front of state District Judge Janice Clark for the lawsuit, but it’s unlikely that any arguments would be heard until a later date.
In his lawsuit, Jenkins said the annexation complicated law enforcement duties between Baton Rouge Police and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff deputies because the annexed area excludes anchor stores at the mall and was drawn around other properties.
He said it would create a complicated scenario where the Baton Rouge police would be responsible for responding to the majority of the mall, but the Sheriff’s Office would be responsible for calls to the department stores that were not annexed.
“Mr. Jenkins and some of his colleagues love to go around talking about all this confusion,” Pierson said. “I like to call that the illusion of chaos.”
The Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction “over every square inch of this parish,” Pierson said. “There’s not a place he can’t respond, and the city police operate primarily in the city, but mutual response agreements operate all over the parish when needed.”
For example, she noted that Towne Center at Cedar Lodge shopping center is an island of unincorporated property within the limits of the city of Baton Rouge.
“So if a policeman is driving down Corporate Boulevard and he witnesses an assault, is he not going to respond? Of course he is,” she said. “These people are just saying these things to frighten people.”
She also said the same issues raised regarding whether the annexation is unreasonable because of its unusual borders and the holes within the mall can be found in every city within the parish.
“The ‘doughnut hole’ thing — that sounds good,” she said. “But there are doughnut holes all over Baker, all over Zachary and all over Central.”
Jenkins said the decision to move forward with the annexation goes against the law, adding that under his interpretation of the Plan of Government, it defers to state law in the case of a legal challenge.
“Mayor-President Kip Holden’s office continues to fly by the seat of its pants and is now trying to enforce its illegal and quite irrational attempt to annex portions of the Mall of Louisiana, leaving some parts inside and some parts outside the city of Baton Rouge, thereby creating confusion for law enforcement and public safety,” he said.