Baton Rouge, LA (FOX44) — There have been no inflammatory Facebook posts, nor any al-Qaeda similes, but that does not mean supporters or opponents of the proposed city of St. George have stopped working.
Both sides have chosen to remain largely quiet in the wake of a controversy caused by Metro Council member John Delgado. He called leaders of the St. George movement "terrorists," inciting anger from both his political allies and foes.
"Councilman Delgado is very passionate about his position, and we think that he probably said some things that he didn't mean," said Lionel Rainey, a spokesman for the incorporation effort.
Fervor over Delgado's assertion was one reason that the St. George incorporation committee claims it gathered more signatures last weekend than any other during its petition drive.
"Every weekend seems to be more and more people who are turning up, signing the petition," Rainey stated. "Every week, we get more and more volunteers who are actually getting engaged with the process. So we're seeing really good momentum, and things are starting to pick up at the right time."
Twenty five percent of all registered voters in the incorporation zone, approximately 18,000, must sign the petition before a special election can be held to determine if St. George will become a city.
But aside from collecting signatures, organizers are doing a lot of waiting and watching, their eyes focused on the State Capitol. Wednesday, SB 636 was discussed in the Senate Education Committee that would create multiple enrollment zones within the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, shift power from the superintendent and board to individual principals, and limit administrative spending. It passed out of the committee over the objections of the EBRPSS and opponents of St. George.
"There is no overspending problem," Belinda Davis, president of One Community One School District, testified. "In fact, we are spending less on these functions than most of the other districts."
"Our school system can already do all of the stuff set forth in this bill, if that is the will of the duly-elected school board to do that," added Dannie Garrett.
SB 636 was authored by Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), who has been the primary supporter of St. George in the legislature. But it was pushed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which has taken a position against the creation of the new city. EBRPSS Superintendent Bernard Taylor also has a plan to shift power from the school board to the schools.
"We're pleased that, even now, our staunchest opponents are starting to recognize that change is needed within the East Baton Rouge Parish School System," Rainey said. "We applaud all of the different pieces of legislation that are trying to make a change in public education in East Baton Rouge Parish.
"Our goal has always been, from Day One, to create an independent school district, to create a smaller, independent school district. None of the legislation currently at the capitol does that."
There are also bills that will come up for debate later this legislative session that aim to prevent St. George from becoming a city. SB 674, authored by Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), would put a retroactive moratorium on incorporation from Jan. 1, 2014 until Jan. 1, 2016. HB 1212, authored by Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), would allow all residents of the affected parish to vote on an incorporation. Currently, only people who live within the boundaries of the proposed city are eligible to vote on the matter.