St. George organizers have turned to grassroots fundraising to fight the lawsuit contesting the incorporation of the new city in southeast East Baton Rouge.
St. George leaders posted a message on the proposed new city's official Facebook page Wednesday asking for contributions to help fight the suit that Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and two residents filed this week against two of the organizers of the St. George incorporation effort.
"Baton Rouge does not respect your right to vote and is using parish resources to sue you, its own citizens. We cannot do it alone. We need your help!" the message posted on Facebook says.
The message concludes by asking people to contribute money through the group's official website.
A similar message also popped up Tuesday on the social media platform Nextdoor.com asking for donations to what is being called the "St. George Incorporation Defense Fund." That message links back to the St. George website as well.
Drew Murrell, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George campaign, said he didn't know who posted the message on Nextdoor.com, but they welcome help from wherever they can get it.
"It could be any of our volunteers who have the power to post anywhere they want," Murrell said. "It's nice and we'll certainly take it."
The message on Nextdoor.com says it will take an estimated $200,000 to defend the lawsuit that could block St. George from becoming a reality.
If the lawsuit takes years to litigate, Murrell said, $200,000 seems like a reasonable number to shoot for.
"If every 'yes' voter will contribute $12, it's covered," the Nextdoor.com message reads.
St. George, which was approved by 17,422 voters in southeast East Baton Rouge in the Oct. 12 election, is set to become the fifth largest city in the state with a population of more than 86,000 people.
"We don't know who's funding their lawsuit — that's the bigger question," Murrell said.
Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson, the lead attorney in the lawsuit targeting St. George, said she’s working pro bono on the case.
“When they say (on the Facebook post) we’re using parish resources, that’s a lie,” Pierson said. “We’re not suing any citizens except Norman Browning and Chris Rials, who are the unelected organizers.”
Pierson said the anti-St. George side also has raised private funds from residents for the legal challenge.
“I’ve had two calls today from people I don’t know asking where they can send money,” she said. “No public money is going into this lawsuit.”
Neither Pierson nor Murrell would reveal the identities of the donors or how much either side has raised so far for what is expected to be a years-long legal fight.
Businessman Richard Lipsey on Wednesday did confirm he is one of the financial backers for the legal challenge to St. George, and that several other business leaders who opposed St. George had donated as well. But Lipsey wouldn’t reveal how much money he has contributed.
The suit filed by Broome and two residents — Baton Rouge attorney Lewis Unglesby, who lives within the St. George boundaries, and M.E. Cormier, a Baton Rouge resident and leader of Better Together/Residents Against the Breakaway — asks state District Court Judge William Morvant to deny the incorporation based on the negative impact they say it would have on the city-parish. The plaintiffs also claim the St. George organizers are "ill-prepared" to operate the proposed city based on details in their "fantasy budget."