Group pushing for Baton Rouge City Council still adding onto 1,000 signatures

Organizers pushing to bring back a Baton Rouge City Council say they’ve already collected more than 1,000 signatures since they started circulating petitions Jan. 1.

The exact number of signatures required ultimately depends on which election date the group chooses to pursue because. It is based on the turnout of the recent sheriff’s election, which means some 8,500 signatures will be required.

Organizers declined to say when they hope to bring the initiative before voters.

The organizing group—dubbed Restore Baton Rouge—previously told Daily Report they wanted the item to appear on this spring’s ballot. But that timeline has been pushed back, says Ernest Johnson, president emeritus of the NAACP Louisiana State Conference who also heads Restore Baton Rouge.

“We will file the petition at the time we want to file the petition and not before then,” Johnson says, though adding they would like to move forward sometime before Metro Council elections in 2020. “We feel really good about where we are.”

By going the petition route, organizers will need the Metro Council to approve changes to the city-parish Plan of Government as well as gather supporting signatures from 10% of those who voted in the most recent sheriff’s election. Even with that, the Metro Council would then need to approve sending the city-council-creating proposal to voters.

The Baton Rouge City Council was abolished in 1983, ceding power to the parishwide Metro Council, but NAACP leaders raised the issue of resurrecting the city council at a July Metro Council meeting. Advocates argue those residing within the Baton Rouge city limits, especially black residents, have too little representation in local government under the current consolidated structure.

Johnson says the group hopes to collect 10,000 signatures through a grassroots campaign called “Each One, Reach One.”  

The effort has received backlash from Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which likened it to the St. George incorporation effort. However, Johnson says the 1,000 signatures they’ve gotten so far have been from both white and black residents.

“It’s all strategic,” he says. “And we’re going everywhere.” 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of signatures required for the petition would be 10% of the people who voted in the last parish-wide election. However, the number of signatures is actually 10% of the number of voters in the last sheriff’s election. Daily Report regrets the error.

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