Central mayor denounces lawsuit as attempt to smear image, says he’s not worried about recall threats _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- Central Mayor Jr. Shelton

The mayor of Central said Tuesday that he supports letting voters decide if St. George should become its own city, though he said the St. George movement faces different obstacles from Central.

Supporters of the St. George movement have often likened their proposed city to Central, which incorporated 10 years ago and has had success with its school system. Central Mayor Jr. Shelton delivered his “State of Central” address Tuesday at an East Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he highlighted Central’s schools and plans for future developments.

He touted Central’s rank for the third-best public schools in the state, and talked about an upcoming 150-acre neighborhood development from the developers of Lafayette’s River Ranch.

“It is every citizen’s right to vote to determine their future,” Shelton said, eliciting applause from those attending the luncheon. “When you’re part of a big parish like EBR, you have limited opportunities to have a voice, to have a real voice, in determining what you want your community to look like.”

Still, Shelton noted after the meeting that the St. George movement has its own unique challenges. While Central has 28,000 residents, the St. George incorporation would pull away more than 100,000 residents from East Baton Rouge Parish.

Shelton said much of Central’s prosperity comes from its small size, which has triggered many more citizens to become involved in their local government. Central was already a defined community before it became its own city, while it’s much murkier who fits into the city of St. George, according to Shelton.

The efforts to create Central and the proposed city of St. George are similar in that they were both built around their desire to control schools, Shelton said. He mentioned that he did not originally support the effort for Central to become its own city, but once the voters asked for it at the polls, he said he wanted to become more involved.

“If it doesn’t go their way, they’ve got to figure out some way to control their destiny,” the mayor said.

Former state representative and vocal St. George supporter Woody Jenkins, who attended the luncheon, agreed that the main thing the two movements have in common is the focus on schools. Jenkins is suing over the Mall of Louisiana’s annexation to the city of Baton Rouge, which keeps copious sales tax dollars in Baton Rouge.

Jenkins said he had not considered Shelton’s point about citizens becoming more involved in their government, a prospect that excited him.

Shelton also touted Central’s $20 million in the bank during his speech, noting that the city government will decide which services to provide to citizens and where that money goes. Many of Central’s city services are privatized.

He said they continue to want to attract new businesses to Central, which would give residents more shopping options and also more opportunities for jobs within Central rather than commuting to Baton Rouge.

The conservative-leaning East Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce group that hosted Tuesday’s luncheon is separate from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. Its organizers have said it was formed to cater to the needs of small businesses in the parish.