Parish challenging A.G. wording in opinion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 1, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – St. John Parish officials are not sitting pat, accepting the wording in an attorney general opinion that was used by Governor Bobby Jindal to call a special election on the possible incorporation of the Town of Garyville.

Jindal called the election this week, approving a date of July 19 for voters in the Garyville area to vote on whether to become the first town in St. John Parish to incorporate.

But parish officials say the wording in the attorney general’s opinion is not just misleading, but very troubling to say the least.

The A.G.’s office issued their recommendation earlier this week to Jindal, saying that the petition from the Garyville Incorporation Committee met all the criteria of state law and therefore, an election for incorporation should be allowed. Jindal followed with a proclamation approving the election.

But parish officials say that a particular paragraph in the opinion is quite troubling, and even possibly inaccurate, since the A.G. indicated the industry in the proposed boundaries appears to be legally included in the Town of Garyville.

Whether industry such as Marathon and Cargill will eventually be included in the town boundaries is a huge issue that may likely end up in the courts, since millions of dollars in sales tax and property taxes is involved.

The A.G.’s opinion says that “the industrial areas contained within the proposed incorporated area do not appear to have been legally designated as Industrial Areas as prescribed by law.” However Assistant Attorney General William Bryan says in the opinion that he is basing that statement on “information provided to the governor’s office by the chairwoman of the incorporation committee.”

Parish officials were outraged that Bryan used Chairwoman Geri Baloney’s information for the opinion, especially since Bryan has told them his office did not research the matter at all themselves.

Parish officials have contended from the beginning that the industry does not belong in the Garyville boundaries, and have provided documentation which shows big business such as Marathon, Nalco and Cargill all filed the needed paperwork nearly 40 years ago to be designated Industrial Areas, which would therefore exclude them from the proposed town’s boundaries.

On Thursday, St. John Parish Attorney Jeff Perilloux, with the backing of St. John District Attorney John Crum, sent a letter to the governor’s office seeking reconsideration of the entire opinion from the A.G.

“The way the office handled this entire matter really concerns us,” Perilloux said. “We want the opinion revisited and we have now asked for an opinion on whether the industry does meet the requirements for an Industrial Area.”

And St. John Public Information Officer Buddy Boe said there is now a second issue with the petition, and that has to do with the assessed value of the proposed town. The petition for incorporation says the value of the property is $131 million, which obviously would be the case should industry be included. But Boe says that would be incorrect if companies such as Marathon are not ruled within the boundaries of the town. That also, would make the petition for incorporation incorrect.

“What bothers us most about all this is that the A.G.’s opinion should rest on laws and facts, but he states right in the opinion that he is basing part of it on the information provided to him by Geri Baloney,” Boe said. “The A.G.’s office is looked to for an unbiased opinion, not telling us what somebody told them—regardless if the information they got was true or not.”

Parish President Bill Hubbard said he is still not trying to stand in the way of a vote of the people, but just wants all the laws followed properly. He still contends that the people of Reserve, a portion of which has been included in the new town, should not be part of the new boundaries.

“I’m still very disappointed they took a chunk of Reserve for their boundaries,” Hubbard remarked. “That is blatantly wrong. They have taken thousands of acres of land for future development and tried to include it.

“I have breakfast at Pirogue’s Restaurant very often every week and I talk to the people who live out that way on West 10th Street. I don’t care if they got a couple of signatures on the petition from out here, I know that most of those people do not want to be in a town of Garyville,” he added.

Meanwhile, Baloney and her Garyville Incorporation Committee have had no further comments on the matter, and instead are looking ahead to the public meeting on Thursday, May 8 at Garyville Magnet School at 6:30. They are calling it an education campaign for the public on the matter of incorporation.

Hubbard said the parish will also “educate the public” on the matter as the vote draws closer.