Covering Louisiana

Jul 23, 2014 7:15 AM by AP

St. George organizers shy of needed signatures

St. George organizers say they're still shy of the 18,000 signatures needed to put the proposal to create a new city in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish to a vote.

St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey said Tuesday the group would not be submitting its petition on Wednesday, the deadline to put the issue on the November ballot.

The Advocate reports Rainey said they expect to be ready for the December election, which will require them to submit the necessary signatures by Oct. 21.

But Mary Olive Pierson, an attorney hired by the Mayor's Office to handle annexation and St. George litigation, predicted that any election date could be postponed. She says the city-parish will file a lawsuit challenging the petition as soon as it's filed.

"I can assure you there are going to be challenges to the petition which will have to be dealt with in the courthouse before they get to the voting booth," she said. "I've never had much confidence in their predictions for a timeline for an election."

Last week, St. George organizers announced they had 17,076 signatures. It was the first time they had disclosed their signature counts since December. The number of signatures required to get the petition on the ballot is based on the count of registered voters in the area, which city officials have estimated at about 73,000 people. Twenty-five percent of voters must sign the petition for it to be put to all the voters, which means they likely need at least 18,000 signatures.

Rainey said he didn't have an updated signature count Tuesday but estimated that at least 200 more signatures had been collected in the past week.

"It was a really good week," he said, attributing some of the past week's momentum to a PBS "Frontline" documentary that aired last week on the effort that he says unfairly depicted the movement as racially motivated.

"Absolutely it was positive for us, these people are not prejudiced," he said. "There is no racial or class motive around this, they just want better for their children. And rightfully so, that frustrates them."

Frustration with the parish's public schools has been a driving force in discussions about St. George.

Community activists opposed to the breakaway city, however, have decried the movement as a diversion from fixing systemic problems in schools across East Baton Rouge Parish.

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