State lawmakers will take up a bill on the House floor later today that would establish a transition committee for the proposed city of St. George, should the incorporation effort prove successful.
The controversial bill, previously amended on the Senate floor to spare St. George residents from having to pay certain parishwide and legacy expenditures, is expected to pass.
Still, one might expect the paid lobbyists for the city-parish, Courson Nickel, to fight the effort, which is opposed by the administration of Mayor Sharon Weston Broome.
On the contrary, the lobbyists, who have an annual $100,000 contract to represent the city-parish, are sitting this one out. In fact, the firm hasn’t represented the city-parish on any St. George-related legislation, including this bill, by Republican Sen. Dan Claitor, or on a separate measure, by Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, that never made it out of committee.
The Dorsey-Colomb bill would have required voters across the parish to approve the creation of St. George during the fall election, rather than the current law of having only those within the footprint of the proposed city voting on incorporation.
Courson Nickel declines to comment on why it declined to get involved. But local attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who is advising the city in its fight against St. George on a pro bono, legal basis and testified against the Claitor bill in committee, says she was told the firm felt it was a conflict to represent the city-parish on the issue since several members of the Metro Council are in favor of the St. George effort.
“They claimed they had a conflict,” Pierson says. “I asked what it was and they said there was a conflict between the mayor and Metro Council. Well, why didn’t they tell us that? We could have hired somebody else.”
Pierson points out that even if some council members are supporting the St. George effort individually, the council as a body has never voted to take a position on the issue one way or the other.
“The mayor is the CEO of the city-parish and does what is best for the city-parish,” Pierson says. “She has the right to tell the lobbyist—unless the council takes a vote—‘this is what we want you to do,’ and if they can’t or won’t they need to tell us.”
Pierson says she was both floored and disappointed that nobody told her until 10 days ago, well into the final month of the session, that the city-parish didn’t have any lobbyists representing it in on St. George.
“I had lawmakers texting me from the Senate floor saying, ‘Where are your lobbyists?’” she says. “I don’t understand this at all. If you have a lobbyist who can’t talk, you don’t have a lobbyist.”
Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel says that to his knowledge, there is no contractual reason or council issue that precludes Courson Nichols from representing the city.
“We are moving forward in our efforts to express the city’s concern about SB 229 in a very demonstrative way,” Gissel says. “After the session, we will meet with Courson Nickel to discuss the issue”