St. George leaders: "We gotta get those petitions signed"

St. George leaders:
Photo provided by staff
Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 4:04am

Leaders of the St. George movement are trying to keep their supporters motivated.

There are a couple of threats that could stop a new city from being created. But the people behind it are as determined as ever.

The St. George organizing committee held its first public meeting in a few months Tuesday night. The speakers generally did not discuss legislation aimed at preventing new cities from incorporating, or the recent annexation requests by Baton Rouge General, Our Lady of the Lake, or the Mall of Louisiana. Instead, they went back to the original argument for St. George, which was the desire to improve education in the southern and eastern portions of East Baton Rouge Parish.

"Why do I do this?" asked Norman Browning, the chairman of the incorporation committee, while holding his grandson. "Right here. Why am I involved? Right here."

The discussion of numbers and details was left to Chris Rials, a chemical engineer who volunteers his time on petition drives. He talked about the migration of families to Livingston and Ascension Parishes, as well as families who choose to pay for private school instead of sending their children to public school.

"Your annual 2013 EBR school district taxes equate to perpetually buying a pair--if not more--of LSU football season tickets--and some of those are Stadium Club seats, by the way," Rials explained, "and you voluntarily decide to never attend any of those games."

Absent from much of the meeting was discussion about the impact of annexation and legislation on the St. George petition. Metro Council member Buddy Amoroso voiced his public support for St. George after the annexation requests were announced Monday.

"Both local and state government has seen fit to change the rules," he stated. "It's kinda like, you're playing in a football game, and immediately then they change the size of the field, and make it longer then make it shorter."

State lawmakers are debating multiple bills that would make it tougher to incorporate a new city. One, which would allow all East Baton Rouge Parish residents to vote about St. George, was deferred indefinitely after discussion on the House floor Tuesday.

Amoroso said he and Council Member Ryan Heck, who also attended Tuesday's meeting, would try to prevent the annexation into Baton Rouge of the mall and the hospitals.

"Both of those gentlemen have had the courage to step up and to do what's right. Thank you," Browning said.

Expanding the city limits to include them could potentially invalidate the St. George petition, since its boundaries had to be approved by the Secretary of State's office.

"And it's akin to the, City Hall, taking a giant eraser and wiping away the expressed will of the people," Amoroso stated, "and I cannot stand for it; I won't stand for it."

"The proposed city of St. George challenges the current EBR establishment and infrastructure," Rials added. "And make no mistake, it is unsettling and fearful to some."

Unsettling, perhaps, but the other side is winning the metaphorical game.

"People think that St. George is dead. They think this petition drive is dead. There's 30 seconds left on the clock, we're down by six points. But you know what happens? One of those miracle plays, you know? The quarterback throws a Hail Mary play, caught, touchdown! LSU wins by one point. Guys, we got 30 seconds left in the game. We gotta get those petitions signed."

St. George organizers have estimated that they would have enough signatures on their petition to turn it into the Secretary of State's office in June, which would put the proposed city up for a vote in November. They need roughly 18,000 valid signatures, but have not recently given an update as to how many they have collected.

The annexation requests are expected to come before the Metro Council on May 14. Our Lady of the Lake's campus is split between city land and parish land. That was the case for Costco and Celtic Media Centre, which both had their annexation requests approved swiftly last month. Baton Rouge General and the Mall of Louisiana are currently entirely on unincorporated parish land, so their approvals could be much more contentious.

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