St. George organizers end new city fight, for now
BATON ROUGE - Organizers of the movement to create a new city called St. George in East Baton Rouge Parish said Thursday they will not appeal a judge's ruling over their petition, ending the fight for now.
The group made the announcement on their Facebook page, saying they will regroup and continue to explore their options.
"Pay close attention to those who cheer this as a victory," said St. George spokesperson Lionel Rainey. "Nothing has been won. All they succeeded in doing is temporarily delaying the democratic process."
Judge Wilson Fields threw out a lawsuit recently from St. George against the Registrar of Voters, and Rainey said appealing that decision would have likely taken two years and cost more than $250,000.
The St. George movement grew out of a failed attempt to create a breakaway school district in the Shenandoah area of East Baton Rouge. Supporters wanted to incorporate a swath of the south and eastern parts of the parish in order to build their own school, similar to the Zachary and Central community school districts.
Opponents of the St. George movement organized behind the Better Together group, saying incorporating those parts of the parish would have removed lucrative property taxes needed to fund the rest of the parish's budget and schools. Some of those businesses, including the Mall of Louisiana, annexed into the city after stating they were concerned property taxes would rise in the new city.
St. George organizers said the matter should be up to a popular vote, and petitioned for signatures to get the matter put on an upcoming ballot. Nearly 18,000 signatures were turned in last October, and opponents like Better Together pushed for people who no longer believed in the movement to have their signatures removed. The registrar's final count said the St. George petition was short of the required number by 71 signatures.
St. George sued, claiming signatures from people who registered to vote after the petition was originally turned in were removed illegally, but Judge Fields ruled there was no legal way to get the registrar to take another look at the signatures and threw out the suit.
"Our opponents claim to have a desire to bring people together. By fighting to deny people the right to vote, these groups have driven a permanent wedge," Rainey said. "They have not poured water on this fire. They poured gasoline on it."