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Signatures turned in to put St. George on ballot

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BATON ROUGE- The East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters expects it will take about a month to sift through the thousands of names turned in Monday supporting the proposed City of St. George.

More than 18,000 signatures were submitted this morning to bring the issue before voters. Organizers are shooting to get this on the ballot in the spring.

St. George leaders needed 17,746 signatures. They turned in between 18,000 and 18,500, less than the 20,000 they had originally hoped to get.

"We chose to turn the petition in early due to the constant efforts by the City of Baton Rouge to undermine the democratic process," St. George Spokesman Lionel Rainey said. "This petition is a testament to the legitimate concerns of nearly 20,000 registered voters in this parish. We will continue to aggressively gather signatures until an election is called."

Now that the petition has been turned in, the tedious process to verify each one begins. Earlier this year, Parish Registrar Elaine Lamb told WBRZ there are 17 employees in her office who will be tasked to verify the signatures. A thorough process is used to make sure each one is vetted and accurate.

Kaleigh Pedersen signed the petition a year ago. She said she did it for her son.

"It's just about getting my son in a better school," Pedersen said. "The public school system is not where I'd like Parker to be."

If the petition is approved and voters make St. George a reality, it would incorporate the southeast portion of the parish into its own city. Organizers have said from the beginning, the impetus behind it was to push for better schools. However, the proposed city has been controversial since day one.

This year, the St. George movement took a hit from several high profile annexations like the Mall of Louisiana and Baton Rouge General on Bluebonnet Boulevard. As recent as this month, farm land owned by LSU along River Road and the L'Auberge Casino are the latest areas slated for annexation into the City of Baton Rouge.

St. George leaders have said without the casino, the new city would still have a $5 million surplus in the budget.

If there are enough signatures vetted for an election, it will likely face legal challenges. Outspoken St. George Critic and Metro Councilman John Delgado said he believes the petition is invalid. Critics have said the St. George movement is being done to separate the City of Baton Rouge on class and racial lines.

"I would anticipate a suit would be filed in a matter of weeks," Delgado said.

Delgado believes all residents in Baton Rouge should be given a say so in the voting booth.

The St. George breakaway kicked into high gear about one year ago. Prior to that, the issue about new school districts was addressed during legislative sessions where the idea gained steam but lacked funding for a new school district.



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