BATON ROUGE, La. (NBC Local 33) (FOX 44) — Prominent Baton Rouge business and community leaders gathered Thursday to take a stand against the proposed city of St. George. The opposition focused on one of the most debated issues leading into the election: education.
The group, led by East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President, assembled at H&E Equipment Services on Pecue Lane, which lies within the proposed area that would become St. George should voters support the measure which appears on the Oct. 12 ballot.
“Over the years, we have certainly made tremendous gains in East Baton Rouge Parish,” said Weston Broome, “specifically around our school system.”
The CEO of H&E Equipment Services Brad Barber expressed his support of the mayor’s team. “We’re proud of the progress that the mayor and the mayor’s team and the school district has made,” said Barber. “Anything that would jeopardize that would be in opposition to my beliefs.”
Donna Saurage, the owner of Community Coffee, brought laughter to the room when she began her remarks by saying, “You all probably know that community is a word that’s really dear to me.”
Saurage continued to say she is a strong advocate for childhood education and believes that “every child in Baton Rouge, no matter what zip code they live in, has access to a high performing school.” She encouraged the people of Baton Rouge to “figure it out” and by working together, any problem can be solved.
The CEO of Sparkhoud Shawn Usher, said the upcoming vote “represents a vote for a permanent divide in our community.”
Executive chair of H&E Equipment Services John Engquist expressed concern over the bottom line. “To think you can take an area like St. George, spin it out of Baton Rouge and think that you can establish a whole new system of government cost effectively… I just don’t think the numbers work.”
Businessman Richard Lipsey expressed similar sentiment. “We don’t want to not be a part of Baton Rouge,” said Lipsey. “We don’t want another layer of government we have to report to.”
Lipsey recently fell under attack by pro-St. George spokesperson Andrew Murrell for a series of flyers mailed out to constituents in the proposed St. George area. Murrell had called the flyers “fraudulent” and “misleading” in an interview with NBC Local 33. Lipsey stood by the flyers Thursday and said, “all the flyers we sent out are asking questions that no one has stepped up and answered.”
The CEO of Lamar Advertising Sean Reilly spoke casually painting a picture for the future of St. George students. He said when your child is full grown and asked where he/she grew up, no one will know where “Splintersville, Louisiana” is located; instead, people will recognize “Baton Rouge – where the politics are as spicy as the food.”
Manufacturing manager for ExxonMobil Charles Dabadie, stressed the relationship between business leaders across Baton Rouge and the need to continue working toward similar community goals. “We as business leaders need to work together, in unity, to help support the schools so we have a good education for all of our schools.”
As early voting begins Sept. 28, Barber stressed the importance of getting the facts, “I’m advocating for parents to be aware and educate themselves.”