INDUSTRY IS OUT!
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 15, 2008
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
EDGARD – ‘I will not stop this election.”
Those were the words of Judge Anne Lennan Simon on Tuesday in 40th Judicial District Court, as the ad hoc judge ended a lengthy day of court testimony and arguments, ruling that the vote on incorporating the Town of Garyville can go forward this Saturday, July 19.
However, equally important in the days events, was the fact that Simon had earlier ruled that industry in the proposed incorporation boundaries does, in fact, have proper industrial area designation and cannot be a part of the newly-proposed town.
Supporters of the industry exemptions said that the vote which will take place Saturday will now be “about a town that will have no money,” said Marathon attorney Daniel Wellons.
Voters will now go to the polls this Saturday, with the Garyville issue on the ballot. However at the heart of much discussion in the courtroom late into the evening on Tuesday, was the matter of how confused voters may be about exactly what they are voting on.
Even though Simon has ruled that industry will not be a part of the town presently being voted on, lawyers for those very industrial companies all were intensely concerned about the vote taking place at all.
Arguments were put forth into the final hours of an eight-hour court day that an illegal election is being voted on.
“The judge handled this the best way she could,” St. John Parish attorney Jeff Perilloux said. “But this is still an unfair, unfortunate—and frankly—illegal election, that is taking place Saturday.”
Perilloux has led the way from the parish position ever since the initial vote was approved by Governor Bobby Jindal, stating the proposed Garyville boundaries were illegal since they included industry.
“They never should have included the industry in the boundaries, and they knew it,” Perilloux said. “So now we have people voting on what is essentially an illegal election this Saturday. The incorporators had a chance to fix this early on, but now people will be voting on something that is based on an illegal election. And if it is approved, it will be a town that doesn’t have much money to run on.”
Even though the Garyville Incorporation Committee didn’t win every phase of the day’s decision, lead counsel Geri Baloney, who is also chairperson for the incorporation group, was quite happy with the outcome.
“I’m elated and very happy,” she said about the judge’s ruling. “Really, it’s not too bad of a ruling. I’m happy the vote is going on, and if there is a town that is formed, then the town will fight for every penny they are entitled to.”
Baloney’s legal team spent much of the day objecting to many points the industry lawyers made. For the second court day in a row, attorneys were present from Marathon Petroleum, Cargill, Nalco, Stockhausen and Gramercy Alumina. Also against the incorporation group was the Becnel law firm, which had filed a suit on behalf of individuals and businesses in the Reserve and Garyville area, who also did not want to be a part of the new town.
Industry had all filed similar suits alleging they should not be part of the proposed town, since they had all filed industry exemption paperwork with the state as much as 40 years ago. State law gives industry the opportunity to be exempt from any future municipality, should they seek that designation. However to get the exemption, the industry must provide all its own services.
While much of the day was taken up with arguments and witnesses all involving whether the industry exemption was correct or not, the day’s action took a sudden turn late in the afternoon when industry announced that earlier court cases backed up the fact that the Garyville Incorporation group did not even have the right to challenge their status. Industry claimed that the law showed only the issuing body of the designation could remove it.
Simon quickly listened to those arguments as Baloney’s team suddenly halted their witness parade. And in a matter of minutes, the judge called a recess, returning in 15 minutes to announce that she was granting the industry their rights as exempt property. Baloney asked for a stay order that was immediately denied.
Then the difficult decision for Simon about what to do about this Saturday’s election was before her. She admitted agonizing over the ruling, and even asked the attorneys how they should approach the issue, and if they could offer suggestions about what she should do about the election.
Approximately 200 absentee ballots had already been cast, and a lawyer with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office was on hand to offer some options about what Simon could do.
Attorneys for industry argued vehemently that the election should be postponed until proper boundaries could be drawn for the proposed town, and voters knew without a doubt what they were voting on.
“My office represents people who are confused about what is on the ballot Saturday,” Kevin Klibert of the Becnel law firm said. “We want the people to vote on something they are certain of, and right now, there is too much confusion.”
“We are not trying to stop anyone’s right to vote,” Wellons added. “But there should be no right to conduct an illegal election.”
Having already lost the battle for now on whether industry was designated exempt or not, Baloney did not back off what she felt was the right of voters to still decide the issue this Saturday.
“We have spent all day here without being allowed to call witnesses or introduce testimony for our main case, which is to prove that the land use part of the statute was never satisfied by industry when they got their exemptions,” she said. “But I respectfully submit to this court that they do not have the right to enjoin this election. It’s too late.”
Baloney continued to point the finger at industry for filing all of their lawsuits so late, noting that they waited “56 days” after the election was called.
“Their procrastination has become our problem,” she remarked. “but now we have over 1,300 signatures from people wanting a right to vote on this, and we only needed over 600. This is a referendum from the people to decide this and it should go forward.”
Even though Simon clearly was struggling with the decision, in the end she did not believe she had reason enough to halt the election, and said that all challenges to the election could still take place after it was over.
“I’m extremely reluctant to enjoin (stop) this election. So I am ruling that the election will take place. Go ahead and file your writs now,” she said, indicating that plenty of appeals could be forthcoming to the complicated proceedings.
However even Baloney said she does not plan any immediate appeals and will allow the election to take place.
“If a town is formed, the elected officials can do what they think is right,” she said. “I think they should go for every penny they can get from industry, and I still believe that the town will absolutely still get some portion of tax money from them.”