Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has petitioned Gov. John Bel Edwards to set a reasonable date for the election on the proposal to create the city of St. George in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish, preferably in the fall.
In a letter Broome sent to the governor Thursday, she argues that calling the election on May 4, when proponents of the incorporation effort want the proposal to hit the ballot, wouldn't give St. George organizers enough time to hold the numerous public meetings that she deems necessary to answer questions about the controversial issue.
Broome’s letter doubles down on similar sentiments the Baton Rouge Area Chamber made in its letter to the governor on Monday asking that the election take place in October along with the statewide elections.
"For these reasons, I implore you to set a reasonable election date that will allow the organizers to fulfill their responsibility of transparency and responsiveness to our citizens," Broome wrote. “Incorporation has direct effects on our ability to be a resilient and regionally competitive parish, and a full-throated and public dialogue on all merits around this proposal is necessary in our parish.”
In a previous statement, Broome said she preferred Edwards put the St. George measure on the fall ballot, a view that is in line with opponents who believe a higher voter turnout during the gubernatorial and statewide elections would be to the opponents' advantage in blocking the effort.
Organizers of the St. George effort fired back Thursday, calling Broome’s attempts to have the election set in October hypocritical, saying she placed her half-cent sales tax proposal for road improvements on the Dec. 8, 2018, ballot during a low-turnout election to ensure it would pass.
“It’s disingenuous for the mayor to care about voter turnout for issues she opposes when she doesn’t care about it for issues she supports,” said Drew Murrell, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George campaign.
Voter turnout in the Dec. 8 election for the roads tax proposition was 26 percent. The tax passed with 44,680 voting yes and 28,690 voting no.
Local political analysts have said previously that calling the St. George election in May would likely benefit incorporation proponents because more voters supporting the effort than those opposing it would turn out on that day.
Setting an election is the next step in what has been a four-year effort for St. George proponents. The organizers learned on Feb. 25 that their seven-month petition drive had enough signatures — they needed signatures of 25 percent of active voters within the proposed city limits — to force a vote.
St. George organizers submitted 17,102 signatures for verification in October to East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters Steve Raborn, who announced Feb. 25 that 14,585 signatures were accepted and certified by his office and 2,517 were rejected or struck from the petition. The organizers needed 12,996 signatures to advance the issue to a ballot vote.
The governor has until March 11 to pick an election date. There are certain legal requirements the Governor’s Office must ensure have been met before the election can be called.
Shauna Sanford, communications director for the Governor’s Office, on Thursday would only confirm that Edwards received the letters from Broome and BRAC; Sanford did not indicate what election date he is considering.
Broome, in her letter to the governor, wrote: “I implore you to allow more time for the incorporation organizers to arrange as many public meetings as possible in order to have robust dialogue with the citizens of East Baton rouge, both inside and outside of the proposed limits, about the merits and impacts of the incorporation effort.”
Broome and those opposing the incorporation have said St. George’s creation would result in tax increases across the parish: for St. George because the opponents don’t feel organizers factored in enough revenue to run the city and create the independent school district driving the incorporation campaign, and for the rest of the parish because St. George would siphon more than $50 million a year in sales tax revenue from city-parish coffers.
“There are looming questions by many of our citizens about this proposal, and an informed electorate is absolutely critical, given that this impacts the future of our parish,” Broome wrote.