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No, EBR can't stop St. George from incorporating

You can be sure that somebody’s argument operates from incredible weakness when they talk about how complicated is an issue. Case in point: the possibility of blocking creation of the city of St. George in regards to the contents of East Baton Rouge Parish’s Plan of Government.

On the surface, it might surprise observers that, during the protracted battle to incorporate St. George out of most of the southern unincorporated area of the parish, Sec. 1.05 of the document never came up. Its last sentence, after exempting Baker, Central, and Zachary, reads, “No additional city, town or village shall be incorporated in East Baton Rouge Parish.”

If enforced, that would have stopped St. George in its tracks. Indeed, Parish Attorney Lee Anne Batson said, decades ago when the Plan and metropolitan government came into existence, it explicitly wished to write in only the existing cities of Baton Rouge, Baker, and Zachary, prohibiting all others.

But then Central organized itself, gaining municipal status in 2005 – and the metropolitan government looked the other way. It then acknowledged the reality when in 2007 it proposed and gained citizen assent to change the Plan to include Central as a permitted city.

Despite the Plan’s wording then, the city/parish actually supported Central’s incorporation effort. “It’s just a thorny issue,” Batson summarized.

No, it’s not. Art. VI Sec. 8 of the Louisiana Constitution makes it very clear: “No parish plan of government or home rule charter shall prohibit the incorporation of a city, town, or village as provided by general law.” In several previous sections of the article, the document makes clear that a plan of government/home rule charter cannot be inconsistent with the Constitution – even ones grandfathered in, as in the case of the Plan.

Case closed. As long as an incipient municipality follows general state law in its incorporation effort, as did Central and St. George, the Plan cannot prohibit them from the attempt. Unless amending the Constitution to strike that section, that will remain the case.

Alternatively, Baton Rouge could move to annex the unincorporated area that comprised the St. George boundaries. That would require tremendous transition costs, mainly in the area of public safety, which also would serve to break up existing, and in the case of fire protection fragmented, centers of power that makes it politically impossible at this time.

The city/parish has commenced its periodic review of the Plan to see if it needs tweaking. A very obvious one is to scrap the final sentence of Sec. 1.05, enabling it to drop the fiction that it can prevent St. George from having another go at incorporation, or stop any other effort. No amount of declaring the issue a tricky one changes that.

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