Organizers of the St. George incorporation effort face a major hurdle in their quest to put the issue to a spring vote.
The deadline for Gov. John Bel Edwards to place the initiative on a May ballot is Monday. But Edwards’ office tells BRProud.com that it cannot make a decision without a copy of the petition asking the governor to call a vote.
“Right now, we cannot make that call,” Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens wrote in an email Friday. “By law, the governor must review the petition.”
The governor has yet to receive the petition from East Baton Rouge Registrar Steve Raborn, who must still redact petitioner information before sending the file.
Even if the Governor’s Office receives the document over the weekend, aides claim they would not have time to review all 14,585 accepted signatures by Monday.
The bureaucratic delay comes as a blow to St. George petitioners who handed Raborn their appeal in October, hoping that a May vote would lend exclusive billing to their cause.
“We’re extremely disappointed,” St. George spokesman Andrew Murrell said. “When you wonder why peple lose faith in their government, it’s because of situations like this.”
The news gives promise to Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s push to hold the incorporation vote later in the year. In a letter Thursday, Broome urged Edwards not to call a May election.
“It is my position that May 2019 does not provide adequate time for the incorporation organizers to plan for numerous public meetings in order to provide the needed details and answers to citizens,” Broome wrote. “I implore you to set a reasonable election date that will allow the organizers to fulfill their responsibility of transparency and responsiveness to our citizens.”
The next option is to hold the St. George incorporation vote in October or November, in tandem with other elections. Many who support creating a new city in East Baton Rouge Parish argue that a fall election would lure more voters — who could strike down the referendum.
Despite the hurdle, Murrell maintains that the St. George vote will pass no matter the timeline. He adds that organizers remain ready to continue their voter outreach efforts.
“Kind of like a groundhog, you’re going to have six more months of St. George,” Murrell said. “We’re not going to stop. Ultimately, we’re going to create the City of St. George.”
The vote will only be open to active registered voters living within the proposed limits of St. George, a currently unincorporated slice of southern East Baton Rouge Parish.
Should it become a city, St. George would have roughly 86,000 residents. This would make it the fifth-most populated city in Louisiana, according to the most recent census figures.
This interactive map outlines the proposed boundaries of St. George: