Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome picked up two more voices in her cause to block the incorporation of the city of St. George in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish, this time from two legendary baseball coaches.
Former LSU baseball coach Skip Bertman and Roger Cador, Southern University’s former head baseball coach, neither of whom lives in the proposed city, at a press conference Thursday both praised Broome on her tenure as the top administrator for the city-parish and spoke about adverse impacts the proposed city would have on its residents and the rest of the parish should voters in the new city approve the incorporation measure.
Early voting on the proposal to incorporate the city of St. George, which could become the parish’s fifth municipality, ends Saturday for the Oct. 12 election.
“Naturally I’m not speaking for LSU, but in my opinion, unity is where it’s at,” Bertman said. “I’ve lived here 40 years. I’ve watched the community come together many times. Staying as one is best for us.”
Bertman served as LSU’s head baseball coach from 1984-2001 and the university’s athletic director from 2001-2008.
Cador served as Southern’s head baseball coach from 1985-2017.
“There is strength in numbers. We’re at the age where we need each other’s hand more than ever before,” Cador said. “Also, I’m here because of the mayor. She’s done an outstanding job in the short period of time she’s been here. We’ve got momentum and we want to keep it.”
Cador’s comments served as an indirect response to the criticism Broome and her administration have faced from St. George proponents who have said a new city could provide better government to residents in the area after years of frustration over how the city-parish has handled their tax money and neglected their needs.
Drew Murrell, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George campaign, said in a separate interview Thursday that his camp could care less about what Bertman and Cador had to say.
“I like how Baton Rouge continues to bring out wealthy and rich people to support them,” Murrell said. “Look at St. George supporters and you see middle class families. I’ll take the support of middle class families over that of the rich and wealthy any day of the week.”
Murrell made similar comments after Broome made a press appearance last week with prominent business leaders who asserted St. George’s creation would adversely impact the parish’s school system, stunt the city-parish’s trajectory of growth and possibly lead to business tax uncertainty.
A few hours after Thursday's press conference, the St. George campaign posted on its official Facebook page that proponents are “still waiting on that positive campaign piece about how great Baton Rouge is doing.”
Proponents also shared on the page an article published by the Baton Rouge Business Report this week highlighting how the city experienced a 5% drop in construction jobs in August.
“Maybe the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and these ‘business leaders’ should be more concerned with our fledgling economy,” proponents wrote before urging everyone in the proposed city to vote early.
Broome at the press conference tried to stress the city-parish has shined best when it has faced its challenges together.
“When the 2016 flood happened, we came together as a community to help our friends, family and our neighbors recover,” she said. “The message is very simple: It’s all about teamwork … now and in the future.”
Campaign finance reports filed this week show the political action committee directly tied to the St. George incorporation pulled in an additional $25,000 from Daniel B. Heard, a contributor in Houston, Texas. The report doesn’t show how St. George PAC spent that money.
The same group had already garnered more than $70,000 in contributions, according to previous reports.
St. George PAC has spent nearly $20,000, mostly on digital ads on social media, previous reports show.
The second round of campaign disclosure reports were due Wednesday to the Louisiana Ethics Board, detailing contributions and campaign spending between Sept. 3 to Sept. 22.
An opposition group led by Michael Beychok, a local political consultant, raked in $53,250 in contributions within a 12 day-period last month. The group, calling itself No City of St. George, pulled in an additional $40,000, according to a campaign disclosure form filed Sept. 27.
The biggest contributors to the opposition group were many of the business leaders who flanked Broome during a press conference last week.
John Engquist, executive chairman of H&E Equipment, forked over $10,000 to help block St. George; The Baton Area Chamber’s political action committee Future PAC donated another $10,000; John Noland, president and CEO of Noland Investments and former chairman of the board for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, put up $10,000; and H&E Equipment donated $25,000.
No City of St. George has spent nearly $30,000 so far on signs, mailers and billboard advertising.
Louisiana First Republicans, group backed by businessman John Mathis that's also come out in opposition to the St. George effort, has spent $8,025 on mailers and advertising between Sept. 3 to Sept. 22. According to the group’s campaign disclosure form, Mathis’ group didn’t raise any money but reported having $71,664 in money on hand from precious contributions.