Nearly one year after 54% of voters in the prospective city of St. George approved incorporation, a lawsuit challenging the effort to create the independent city in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish remains tied up in 19th Judicial District Court and appears far from being resolved.
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, Metro Council member Lamont Cole and attorney Lewis Unglesby filed the suit last November.
Earlier this year, the defendants in the case—St. George organizers Norman Browning and Chris Rials—unsuccessfully appealed a ruling by Judge William Morvant allowing the suit to go forward.
Since then, the two sides have begun what is expected to be a lengthy discovery process. The mayor’s attorneys have asked for documents detailing how organizers of the prospective city plan to provide and pay for every conceivable government service, including: police and fire protection, garbage collection, drainage, animal control, public works, parks, planning, purchasing, administration of courts, economic development, fleet management, flood-plain management, public relations and emergency response services to disasters.
The interrogatories, filed in late August, seek not only detailed plans for providing the services but the names of contractors or entities that will provide them.
St. George organizers requested and were granted an extension in responding and producing the information, which was originally due last week.
“A brief extension on something like this is not unusual,” says Broome’s attorney Mary Olive Pierson.
St. George organizers have long stated they will privatize many services in their new city and contract with the parish to provide others. Opponents of the effort have argued the new city will not be able to do that without substantially raising taxes and negatively impacting the parish as a whole.
St. George spokesman Drew Murrell says the St. George legal team is requesting its own information from the plaintiffs. He declines to say when they might respond to the detailed interrogatories. But he says it’s frustrating, after nearly a year, to be battling with the administration over what he says is the area’s legal right to incorporate.
“St. George won an election by a significant margin, yet the parish president, who is supposed to govern all, seems bent on suppressing the right to vote and denying our rights,” he says. “We followed the law and won.”