Louisiana Supreme Court Recognizes City of St. George

Nearly five years after the voters of the proposed City of St. George voted to incorporate, the Louisiana Supreme Court gave them a historic victory. On Friday, April 26, 2024, in a 4-3 decision, the high court dismissed the suit filed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and ruled organizers of the proposed city had met all legal requirements for incorporation. The city now exists, and members of the St. George Transition District created by the legislature are working to make it a reality. 

On Monday, April 29, leaders of the St. George incorporation movement met the media and local residents for a news conference at Woodlawn Baptist Church.  It was an emotional event, which celebrated 13 years of hard work, personal sacrifice, ridicule, and unwavering determination, especially by the two incorporators, Norman Browning and Chris Rials. Browning and Rials also serve as chairman and vice chairman respectively of the St. George Transition District.  

Other speakers included St. George spokesman Andrew Mur

rell, Dustin Yates, and Metro Councilman Dwight Landry.  Murrell and Yates also serve on the transition district board.  

While some decisions can now be made by the transition district, most of the major decisions will have to await the appointment of the Mayor, City Council, and Police Chief by Gov. Jeff Landry.  The governor is accepting recommendations now and could announce his appointments at any time.

Those appointed will serve until a special election is held.  That could happen this fall. However, the legal deadlines for calling the election are fast approaching.  One pending issue is what are the boundaries of the city.  

After the petition for incorporation was filed, the City of Baton Rouge annexed several important properties, which were inside the proposed city limits of St. George.  The City of St. George is expected to contest those annexations, and the result would affect the boundaries.  On the other hand, all of the annexed properties are commercial, and reportedly no registered voters reside in the area affected.

The remaining plaintiff in the suit against St. George, City-Parish Mayor Pro-Tem Lamont Cole, has announced he intends to ask the Supreme for a rehearing on the case.  While that is a legal option, the chances of success in this case seem remote.  Even if a rehearing were granted, it would not likely result in an injunction to keep the new city from functioning.

The St. George Transition District reportedly has a well defined plan of action, which it intends to follow.

A major tenet of the organizers of St. George is privatization.  Depending on who the governor appoints as Mayor and members of the City Council, that model seems likely to be followed to one degree or another.  The City of Central, which incorporated in 2005, is the only privatized city in Louisiana.

The day-to-day work of managing the City of Central has been done from the beginning by private contractors.  Currently, the master contractor is a non-profit, IBTS.

Organizers of the City of St. George say they will consider dividing the city into three districts, which each district being served by a master contractor that provides most city services.

Besides Central, organizers have studied Sandy Springs, GA, the first major city in the country to be privatized.

One advantage of using one or more private contractors is major cost savings.

The campaign against incorporating the City of St. George began almost as soon as the movement itself began.  In January 2014, then-Mayor-President Kip Holden spoke to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club. Holden condemned supporters of the proposed City of St. George and described them as a “small group of people.” He made that statement even though more than 10,000 people had already signed St. George petitions as he spoke.

Since then, the propaganda campaign against the proposed City of St. George has continued in earnest. The campaign has been led by the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper, which has published scores of false and misleading articles and columns. The Advocate has been joined by the far-left group Together Baton Rouge, organized by Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation. Also strongly opposing St. George have been the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which critics say “never met a tax they didn’t like.”

In that first speech in January 2014, Mayor-President Holden poured out a litany of carefully-crafted cliches designed to end the discussion about incorporating the City of St. George:

•It will break up Baton Rouge.

•It will impose a burden on future generations.

•It will bankrupt our future.

•It will cripple one of the strongest economies in the nation.

•It will divide us.

•It will take a major financial toll.

•It will take Baton Rouge taxes.

•They’d have to provide police, fire, garbage, and public works.

•They would have to elect city officials.

•It would duplicate existing government services.

•Duplicating services means duplicating costs.

•It will mean higher taxes!

•It will mean loss of funding for the D.A. and other officials.

•It will hurt public safety.

•It will hurt our bond rating.

•We’re being held hostage in a disagreement over schools.

•It will turn back the clock on racial harmony.

Only One Thing Was True. Every single thing the Mayor-President told the Rotary Club about the proposed City of St. George was false, except for one thing: If the 

new city is created, there will be an election for Mayor, Police Chief, and City Council. That’s true!

The other things he said were simply talking points but they were not true, and he could not back them up ­then or now. Since 2014, the opponents of St. George really haven’t come up with a single new argument against St. George

A Basic Principle of Our Law.  The basic principle at issue here is that people living in unincorporated areas of Louisiana have the right under Louisiana law to organize a new city (La.R.S. 33:1 et seq).  Furthermore, the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 has a specific provision (Art. 6 §2), which repealed a part of the City-Parish Plan of Government, which had prohibited the formation of new cities in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The law is clear — people have a right to file an incorporation petition with 25 percent of the registered voters and then vote on whether to incorporate.  If the ayes have it, the incorporation can still be challenged but the likelihood of such a challenge being upheld is extremely small.

Virtually all of the issues which are likely to come up in any legal challenge to the incorporation of St. George have already been decided by the courts.  One of the most important cases is Devall v. Starns, which challenged the incorporation of the City of Central. 

For example, the notion that voters outside the proposed city should get to vote on the incorporation of a new city was dealt with in Devall and disposed of as without merit. For a more detailed explanation of the legal issues, see Page 8.

A Tale of Two Cities.  Instead of trying to go through the Mayor-President Holden’s ill-advised and over-the-top remarks one by one, there is something to realize. 

We don’t have to guess how incorporating a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish would work.  It’s already been done! The City of Central (population 29,000) was incorporated in 2005.  We know that the City of Central has NOT raised taxes since it was incorporated in 2005. In fact, it doesn’t even impose a city property tax. It has had budget surpluses year after year and has an accumulated surplus of $70 million. This success can be attributed largely to privatization of city services — the same plan proposed by the leaders of the St. George. 

St. George will not be run the way Baton Rouge is run.  It will be run on a 21st century model of privatization.

The simple way to understand what is being proposed is to compare two cities right here in our area — the City of Hammond (pop. 20,000) and the City of Central (pop. 29,000). They are two nice cities but they were founded on two very different models of government. Hammond was founded in 1818 and follows the same model as cities in the 1800’s.  Central was founded in 2005 and follows a 21st century model.  

In Hammond, with a population smaller than Central, city government costs four times as much! There are 325 employees in Hammond, compared to five full-time and 19 part-time employees in Central. Privatization and Central’s frugal government are why Central has a surplus of $70 million on hand, which can be used for capital improvements and emergencies.

Central: A Conservative, Cost-Conscious City Government.  

City Employees.  With only five employees, the City of Central has no bureaucracy, and the public is not accruing vast unfunded liabilities for hundreds of city employes who may want to retire in the future.  This obligation simply doesn’t exist in Central.

Law Enforcement. Like other residents of East Baton Rouge Parish, the people of Central pay a law enforcement tax to fund the Sheriff’s Office. Before Central was incorporated in 2005, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office was the primary law enforcement agency.  Now 19 years after incorporation, the Sheriff is still the primary law enforcement agency in the City of Central.  The tax has not been increased, and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux says he has no additional costs because of the City of Central. Logically, why would he? He’s providing the same services he has in the past. 

Sheriff Gautreaux said, “If the City of Central wants additional patrols or services over and above, then they have to provide the funding.”  In recent years, the City of Central has paid the Sheriff’s Office for additional patrols. 

The City of Central has no reason to create its own full-time police department. That would duplicate the services already provided by the Sheriff. But Central does have a part-time largely volunteer Central Police Force which assists the Sheriff’s Office.  They function similar to Reserve Sheriff deputies. Every police officer in the Central Police Department is fully certified.  Central police patrol neighborhoods and work traffic accidents, freeing the Sheriff from that responsibility. They are also available for any emergency that may occur.

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has said he will continue to provide the same level of law enforcement protection after incorporation of St. George that he did before incorporation. He also said that if the city wants extra patrols or other special services, it will have to pay the Sheriff’s office the expense of doing so.

  Fire Protection.  Before incorporation, the people of Central funded the Central Fire Protection District through property taxes.  The district was providing excellent service. So there was no reason to create a new duplicatory fire department in the City of Central.  Similarly, the St. George Fire Department will be unaffected by the incorporation of St. George. It is a completely separate governmental agency.

Sewer Services.  Central was part of the parish sewer system before incorporation, and it still is.  The people pay the same sewer user fees as residents of Baton Rouge.  The same is true in St. George.

Garbage Collection. Garbage collection is parishwide. So the people of Central receive the same garbage service that they did before incorporation, and they pay for it with the same monthly user fee as in Baton Rouge. So will St. George

Parks and Recreation.  Parks and recreation in Central are provided by BREC which levies the same property tax in Central that it does in Baton Rouge.  So the incorporation of Central made no change in parks. That will be true in St. George as well.

Not Complex, Not Duplicatory. Not Expensive.  The creation of the City of Central was really quite simple — not complex or duplicatory — with respect to police protection, fire protection, sewer, garbage collection, and parks.  All those services are the same now as they were before incorporation.  The only difference is that Central has added a volunteer Central Police Force to supplement the Sheriff’s Office.

What Did Change in Central?  Three major areas did change: 1) public works, 2) planning and zoning, and 3) plan review, permits, inspections, and Code enforcement.  These are very important areas of local government, and all require considerable expertise.  However, these services can readily be contracted out to private providers.

The City of Central contracts with IBTS, a non-profit organization established by the National Governors Association to provide these city services, along with a variety of other things, such as personnel to answer citizens complaints and problems.

IBTS provides the Public Works Director for the City of Central, engineering services, personnel to staff the planning and zoning commission, clerical staff, and building officials to do inspections.  

Unlike inefficient local governments, which may send out four or five inspectors to one job site, IBTS sends a Certified Building Inspector — one person who performs all inspections, including building, plumbing, mechanical, and electrical.

In addition to the 20 employees that IBTS provides to staff the Central Municipal Services Center, IBTS contracts with general contractors to repair potholes and provide street overlay.  It uses sub-contractors who work at pre-negotiated prices.  Some services such as lot cutting are done at a fixed rate per linear foot, rather than by the hour.

Taxes. Municipal taxes in Central have NOT gone up with incorporation.  In fact, they are LESS than municipal taxes in Baton Rouge.  For one thing, the Central City Council has staunchly refused to levy a municipal property tax.  However, since the city is run so efficiently and is compiling large surpluses, there is no thought of a tax increase by the City of Central.  Instead, the city fathers have been considering where to use some of its accumulated surplus for capital improvements without the necessity of acquiring debt. Experts in privatization we inter

viewed estimated that the City of St. George could run the entire city with fewer than 20 employees, while utilizing a private contractor such as IBTS to provide city services.  They estimate the contractor would need to utilize roughly 50 staff members and certainly no more than 70 to provide the services that citizens will expect.

Charges That St. George Is Breaking Away, That It Is Divisive, or That It Is Racist.  These allegations are intended to inflame passions but have nothing to do with reality.

Obviously, the City of St. George is not breaking away from the City of Baton Rouge.  It’s not part of the City of Baton Rouge.  We’re talking about the unincorporated areas that the City of Baton Rouge never wanted to annex.  Suddenly, the fact that the people in St. George would want to have their own city is “dividing us.”  How ridiculous!  St. George is going to be right next door to Baton Rouge.  It will still be in East Baton Rouge Parish!  Everyone will flow from one city to the other freely and seamlessly.  There won’t be a 10-foot-high wall or checkpoints.

Truly, having a great new city right next to Baton Rouge can only make Baton Rouge better.  Yes, big companies may put an office in Baton Rouge, but where are the employees going to live?  You can bet that, unless something changes, they will be headed to Livingston and Ascension!  But St. George will provide people with a great place to live right next door to the City of Baton Rouge in the southern part of THIS parish — a city with good schools and safe neighborhoods.

The real racism in this debate has been the knee-jerk reaction against St. George.  Somehow if an area is majority white, conservative, and Republican, it shouldn’t be allowed to incorporate and have a city.  That is a racist position to take.

It is also racist to assume that blacks and whites are looking for something totally different in a city.  Will blacks, Latins, and Asians want to live in St. George?  Of course they will!

A few years ago, a black political leader from Baton Rouge made a statement on WAFB-TV about what a racist community Central is.  At the Central City News, we believed that was false but we wanted to find out what the black people living in Central thought about the Central community.  We wondered if they saw it as a racist place to live.

So members of our newspaper staff went to the Central Wal-Mart to survey black customers as they came out of the store.  The first question we asked was, “Do you live in Central?”  If they said no, we thanked them and ended the interview.  If they say yes, we proceeded with the next question, which was, “Since you have lived in Central, have you experienced any acts of racism or been made to feel uncomfortable out here?”

We got looks of puzzlement, laughter, and a lot of “Are you kidding?  We love it out here!  People treat us great!”  Out of 100 interviews, not a single black resident of Central said they had been discriminated against or felt uncomfortable in Central because of race.

We then proceeded to the next question, which was “Why do you live in Central?”

Here were the top three answers: 1) Great schools: “We want a good education for our children, and we couldn’t get it in Baton Rouge!” 2) Low crime: “Out here we can let our children play in the yard without fear of anything happening to them!”  3) Rural setting: “We love the country atmosphere.” “It makes us feel at home!”

But the most interesting part of our survey was yet to come.  We decided to poll the white people coming out of Wal-Mart and ask them the same question: “Why do you live in Central?”

Amazingly, the whites answered the question the same — good schools, low crime, and country atmosphere.   And in exactly that order!

The black people and the white people wanted the same things!

The opponents of St. George who holler “Racism!” are doing such a grave injustice to this community and to its people.  St. George isn’t about race.  It’s about creating a city where people of ALL races can go to public school and get a good education and where people of ALL races can live in their home or shop at the store without fear of being robbed or murdered.  It’s about creating a city where the people control their own destiny, and decisions are not made from afar.  

I have a challenge to the people who are opposing St. George based on accusations of racism.  The challenge is this: Go out to Central and ask black people how they enjoy living in Central and having their children attend the Central School System.  Then maybe you will be able to speak with some authority about what having its own city and school system will mean to St. George.

The bottom line is, it was up to the people of St. George to decide if they wanted a city or not. And the decision should be based on the truth, not ridiculous lies and distortions.

The people made their decision, and the Supreme Court upheld it.

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