Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome took to the streets and backers of the St. George movement took to social media Thursday, hoping to seal up votes ahead of an Election Day that stands to reshape the future of East Baton Rouge Parish.
Broome went door-to-door in the Wimbledon Estates neighborhood Thursday to speak with some of the 50,000 registered voters eligible to vote on whether to create a new municipality of St. George in the southeastern corner of the parish, and convince them to vote against the plan. Proponents had no similar plans to hit neighborhoods heading into Saturday's election, but their decision did not indicate a belief that success is a sure thing.
"I'd be lying if I said I'm not extremely nervous about it," said Drew Murrell, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George campaign.
Murrell stressed that anyone wanting information about the merits of the proposed city, which would encompass more than 86,000 people, needs to just visit their campaign website and find a proposed budget and preliminary plans that have been posted for the past two years.
"The one thing I think everyone agrees on is how big a deal this will be on Saturday," he said. "We've been telling our supporters they can't sit this one out."
Thomas Nielsen was among the first people Broome encountered in her Thursday morning walking tour.
As they walked down Wimbledon Avenue, the retiree gave the mayor an earful about the St. George incorporation effort. He noted it was rooted in discontent with the parish's school system, and told the mayor-president that the displeasure shown by the 15,000 people who signed an incorporation petition cannot be ignored if Broome and her administration hope to extinguish their impassioned grievances.
After more than four years of debates, petition drives and town hall meetings, residents in the southeastern portion of East Baton Parish got …
"You have to figure out what would bring this city together," Nielsen said.
"The schools in this area are all successful. They're not failing schools," Broome replied. "We're a great city."
"You don't have to tell me. I was here before you were born," Nielsen said. "Clearly there's something that has not been addressed."
While part of the discussion revolved around schools, Broome reiterated that Saturday's vote does not involve breaking out of the existing East Baton Rouge Parish School District. Setting up a new school system would require statewide and parishwide elections, as well as approval from the state Legislature.
Saturday's vote only determines whether to carve out a new city that would have about 20 percent of the parish's 441,000 residents.
Proponents started pushing to create a new St. George in 2013 after state legislators wouldn't support creating a separate school district until the area became a city first.
Broome framed Thursday's canvassing as her effort to get what she calls "more accurate information" about the adverse impact St. George would have on the entire parish if the incorporation effort succeeds Saturday. To do that, she and members of St. George opposition groups handed out flyers breaking down their opposing arguments. Those flyers were centered around letting voters in the area know the city's creation would only lead to higher taxes for its residents.
"I feel very compelled to push until the last hour. I don’t want people to become victims of viral misinformation," Broome said. "There are many people who are undecided. I’m not taking those people for granted."
Voters in the southeastern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish are considering whether to create a new city of St. George. The final votes will…
Residents in the subdivision were mostly friendly to Broome.
Casey Walker, who had a "OneBTR" sign posted in the front yard of her home, admitted being shocked when she answered her door to find Broome standing there.
"It's good to see you're doing this," Walker told her.
Jeremiah Griffin, who lives on John Newcombe Avenue, told the mayor he doesn't know enough about what's "really going on" regarding St. George to commit to supporting yet.
And Debby Apcar and Schuyler Marin were singing high praises for Broome. A far cry from the harsh criticism proponents have been posting about her and her administration on St. George's official Facebook page for the past few months.
"She's the best mayor; the hardest working mayor," Marin said. "I want us to stay together."
Apcar added, "I'm not for tearing us apart. I've actually changed some people's minds about it that live near me."
Murrell, in a telephone interview Thursday, fired back that had Broome listened to the thoughts and concerns from St. George residents when she first she took office, she could have avoided the extra work she's doing now to try and stop them.
"She didn't leave us with no other recourse than forming a new city," he said. "I have yet to hear from anyone why it's so great to keep St. George unincorporated."