The office of Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday an effort to establish a new city of St. George won’t go before voters in the southeastern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish any time before October — and only then if the petition to create the new municipality is in line with state law.
Edwards’ decision dashed hopes for quick approval of a new city. Proponents had hoped the issue would have gone before voters in May, and that low voter turnout would have aided the chance of approval. The governor had until the end of the day Monday to set a May 4 election date.
“When our office determines that the statutory requirements have been met, the governor will call the election for October,” Christina Stephens, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement Monday afternoon.
If approved by voters, St. George would be the fifth city in East Baton Rouge, joining Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary and Central. Central residents voted to create their own city in 2005.
If the vote is held Oct. 12, it will be among a number of statewide races including governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer and attorney general, plus many legislative seats.
Last week, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George effort had expressed frustration about a potential delay, fearing the governor might deliberately delay the election to appease the city-parish’s mayor-president, Sharon Weston Broome, like the governor a Democrat.
The robust effort to create a new city in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish cleared its first hurdle Monday with organizers securing enough si…
But Drew Murrell was fairly upbeat Monday.
“I really don’t think this is a political play,” Murrell said Monday. “This is a difficult process to go through. It’s the largest incorporation effort in the state’s history. And it’s a very comprehensive situation.”
He added, “It’s good all the parties involved are being thorough thus far.”
St. George opponents had said previously that those backing the new city wanted the election in May because it, without the attention paid to governor’s race, might draw a smaller number of voters. Aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts are more successful when the number of voters is smaller.
Broome had said setting the election in May would have left too little time for public discussion ahead of the 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 had been accepted and certified by his office. Before supporters could ask the governor to set an election date, the effort needed 12,951 valid signatures — a quarter of the number of voters within the proposed boundaries of St. George at the time the petition drive began.
Edwards has said he wouldn’t call the election until his office had received a copy of the certified petition from parish Registrar Steve Raborn so that it could be reviewed by his staff.
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 governor also complained the attorney general’s office hadn’t provided the same legal aid that it had done during previous incorporation efforts. Attorney General Jeff Landry said “any competent lawyer” in Edwards’ office could review the petition in 90 minutes.
Matthew Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said the governor had to assure the petition met state-mandated guidelines, but that Landry wouldn’t provide a copy of the document to Edwards in a timely manner.
“I am sure you agree that any competent review of the petition would require the governor to actually review the petition,” Block wrote to Landry. “The petition is literally a petition to the governor, and yet, your office decided not to send a copy of it to him.”
Block went on to say that, had the Attorney General’s Office delivered the petition to the Governor’s Office when it was requested Feb. 28, the governor would have had an additional week to determine if it met all the requirements within state law – possibly in enough time to hold the election in May.
Block also noted his initial review of the electronic version of the petition found that the “lengthy legal description of St. George” was illegible.
“Your letter does not mention this as an issue, but it is a very real one, as the legal description is required by (state law),” Block’s letter reads.
Block also said the governor took into consideration how much it would cost the city-parish to hold the election in May versus October pointing out that members of the Louisiana State Bond Commission have in the past been critical of elections being called when a tax proposition was the only thing on the ballot due to the additional expense to the taxpayers.
“I am sure you believe that all elected officials should at all times be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” the response states.
Officials in the Governor’s Office have previously said adding the St. George proposal on the October ballot would cost about $5,000. A separate election in May would have cost about $86,000, the officials said.