The trial opens Monday on St. George’s creation; don’t expect the decision to be the final decision | News

The presiding mayor’s effort to block the creation of a new town in the parish of East Baton Rouge finally goes before a judge on Monday, but any decision by District Judge Martin Coady is sure to be subject to scrutiny. call.

Residents of the southeastern part of the parish voted to create St. George in 2019, or so they thought. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and others have challenged the results and must now prove in court that the proposed town will negatively impact the parish town if they hope to block incorporation.

In their lawsuit against the organizers, Broome’s attorneys used the research of two LSU professors to build the argument that developers overstated projected revenues and understated expenses for the proposed town of about 86,000 residents. . They also say that about $48.3 million in annual revenue the parish town would lose if the city’s incorporation occurred would hurt parish town services and trigger layoffs.

St. George is said to be a predominantly white, middle-to-upper-class city; organizers carved out sections in the southeastern corner of the parish that were predominantly black and lower-class after the first unsuccessful attempt at incorporation never made it past the petition stage.

The trial is expected to last at least a week in the 19th Judicial District Court. Regardless of the outcome, either side is expected to appeal the court’s decision, potentially setting up a legal battle that could reach the state Supreme Court.

“We feel very positive,” said attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who leads Broome’s legal team.

Broome is joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit by Council Pro Tem LaMont Cole.

“We’re going to prove (the incorporation) is unreasonable, they can’t do it in a reasonable time and it will negatively impact Baton Rouge,” Pierson said. “We will also show that they have not fully complied with state incorporation law. We are prepared to prove anything.”

The other party expressed the same conviction before the trial.

“We couldn’t be more confident,” said Drew Murrell, spokesperson for St. George’s Movement. “They have no evidence to prove that we won’t have enough money to provide services. We’re going to prove that we won’t cause Baton Rouge such harm that we shouldn’t be allowed to incorporate. .”

The legal arguments

The legal challenge essentially pressed the PAUSE button on St. George becoming a reality after the October 12, 2019 election, when incorporation was passed by voters within the proposed boundaries by a 54-46 margin.

The Broome-led suit is for St. George organizers Norman Browning and Chris Rials. The case’s arguments hinge on testing the authenticity, credibility and feasibility of the promises made by the two men during the petition campaign that led to the 2019 election.

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Broome’s attorneys argued that St. George’s incorporation would negatively impact Baton Rouge by causing substantial reductions and necessary cuts to all parish-town services, which would hamper the city’s ongoing obligations. -parish in terms of pensions and retirement benefits for current and future employees, deteriorate the bond indebtedness of the city-parish and reduce the financing capacity of the city-parish by reducing its credit rating.

The lawsuit also claimed the organizers used language in the petition that violated aspects of Louisiana’s Revised 33:4 Law because the organizers failed to engage and develop a plan for the list. municipal services that St. George would provide to its residents.

This law states that Coady must determine whether incorporation “is reasonable” and whether the proposed city can provide “utility services within a reasonable time,” while taking into account any adverse effects it may have on other cities in the parish, in this case. Baton Rouge affair. Other towns in the parish are Baker, Central and Zachary.

who takes a stand

The list of witnesses defense attorneys have subpoenaed indicates the developers intend to rely heavily on similarities between St. George’s incorporation and the town of Central, which was the last municipality to incorporate in East Baton Rouge.

The northeast town, also predominantly white, had to overcome its own legal challenge to incorporate 17 years ago before creating its own school district – which is how the St. George movement also began .

According to court records, Russell Starns is among the list of more than 30 people that defense attorneys have asked to testify in court. Starns, a local businessman, led Central’s incorporation effort. St. George’s organizers used Central’s operating model as a reference to develop preliminary plans for operating the city, which were posted on the Incorporation Campaign website.

Central officials contracted out much of the day-to-day functions of the city to a private contractor with a few services still run under the aegis of the city-parish. According to them, one model resulted in annual surpluses for the city.

Among the list of defense subpoenas are a slew of Central City officials, the chairman of Central’s Chamber of Commerce, representatives of the various private contractors Central has outsourced some services to, as well as BREC Superintendent Corey Wilson. , East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, City-Parish Director of Transportation and Drainage Fred Raiford, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul, and Metro Councilman Aaron Moak, who represents the most of Central.

“We have to put in witnesses to prove that St. George is what it is,” Murrell said. “We’re trying to show that the (central) business model works. We’ll show how they’ve quadrupled their budget, increased the population, added businesses and revenue to the area.

“Who doesn’t want that? Oh yes, Mayor Broome,” he said.

The list of plaintiffs’ witnesses includes Browning, Rials and Murrell; in addition to several parish-town department heads, parish Registrar of Electors Steve Raborn, John Engquist, Executive Chairman and Director of H&E Equipment Services; and James Richardson, the LSU economist who helped write the 2018 study saying plan organizers published barely outlining the day-to-day operations of St. George would run a deficit because they overestimated the city’s potential revenue and underestimated his expenses associated with the 2% parish sales tax which will no longer seep into parish coffers if incorporation takes place.

“We’re going to focus on the main things the judge needs to determine in this case,” Pierson said. “Whether they call the ‘Central Cheerleaders’ won’t make a difference. We’ll give the judge enough evidence.”