Baloney not bitter about Garyville vote

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Editor and Publisher

GARYVILLE – Geri Baloney sounded relaxed and content on Monday.

Two days after losing her hard-fought effort as the town of Garyville attempted to become the first municipality in St. John Parish history, Baloney seemed at peace with the way the vote came out on Saturday.

Final, unofficial numbers from the clerk of court’s office showed just over 67 percent of the people voting “No” on Saturday in the question of “Shall the Town of Garyville be incorporated?”

That ended several difficult months of campaigning, and then court challenges, in one of the most controversial issues seen in years for St. John Parish.

The issue became so intense that racial signs even were seen on the streets of Garyville last week, with the election just days away.

But after pondering the results of the election all weekend, Baloney said on Monday that she had no regrets, and was ready to move on.

“Absolutely no regrets about going through this,” she said. “I look back on this as the most meaningful project I’ve ever engaged in. My grandmother always told me to approach any project and take the right road, then let the chips fall where they will. I believe I did that.”

Next up for the Garyville lawyer?

“No court appeals planned at this time. Nothing more with the Garyville incorporation issue,” she said with a slight laugh.

“No, the next thing for me is the March of Dimes fundraising project that I will be the St. John spokesperson for. That should be in October and I hope the newspaper will get behind it.”

As for the incorporation drive, which seemed to take a turn against the committee last week when a judge ruled the local industry would not be a part of the proposed town’s boundaries for the election, Baloney said she didn’t feel bad about what happened, but rather thinks she did all she could do for the attempt to form the municipality.

“How do I feel today?” she responded to the question. “I would feel better if we would have won. But I think we put the info out there, and I know this was the right thing for this community. I saw people at the polls who I normally have not seen there, and this entire project got people involved in the process for change. That is always a good thing.”

In the end, she said it was a direct vote along racial lines that led to defeat. She claims that 98 percent of whites who voted were against the proposition, while 85 percent of the blacks were for it.

“There were more whites who voted and that is the difference,” she said.

“You know, I wasn’t shocked that this would become somewhat of a racial issue, even though it shouldn’t be,” she noted. “But I’ve lived with this kind of thing all my life, and it’s the state of things in America, so it didn’t surprise me in a great way.”

St. John Parish President Bill Hubbard said he is glad the incorporation effort failed, simply because he saw it as a way to divide the parish.

“I don’t think we needed a divisive community and in my opinion, this incorporation effort was doing that,” he said. “I’m happy the people voted, but I’m glad it failed.”

Hubbard said that his promise about “not forgetting Garyville” is as good today as it was before the campaign began.

“The thing that I will commit to the people of Garyville is that you are not forgotten,” he said. “We can’t focus on Garyville any more than we can focus on anyone else. But I can promise that Garyville will be taken care of as much as anyone else for now on.”

To back that up, Hubbard pointed out the fact that Anthony Monica Drive is about to be completely resurfaced; there was an excavator in one subdivision as he spoke doing some drainage work; and the Parish Council has on their next agenda the matter of hiring a firm to develop the historic districts in Garyville, along with several other parish communities.

Baloney said that the matter of trying to get Garyville incorporated got serious in the early part of 2008, even though the idea has floated around for years.

“I told people who had approached me that I would help if they got serious with it,” she said. “And once they did, we were off and running. I expected all along that we would end up with some legal battles from it, and even as things turned out in the end, none of it really shocked me.”

Baloney said that she knew she would end up getting strong opposition from parish leaders, since Garyville was attempting to take tens of millions of dollars from the parish coffers.

“Anytime you try to get as much as $20 million from a government agency, you’re not ever going to have them give it up so easily,” she remarked.

Parish officials sent out several direct-mail flyers late in the week, making their points on the issue, which was to argue with the “no new taxes” line from the Garyville group, as well as back the position of industry money not being a part of the new town.

But in the end, it was the lawsuits from five of the industry giants in the area that seemed to do in the incorporation effort. Marathon Petroleum, Cargill, Nalco, Stockhausen and Gramercy Alumina all filed lawsuits against the effort, as did a community group from

Reserve, since the proposed boundaries included their companies. All those industries had filed paperwork as much as 40 years ago that granted them an exemption from any future municipality.

Once the matter got to court last week, Ad Hoc Judge Anne Simon eventually ruled that for the election, industry did, in fact, have an exemption from the town’s boundaries and would not be included should the Town of Garyville be formed.

“No doubt that really hurt us,” Baloney said. “I think we might have had 20 percent of the whites in our corner before that. But once that got ruled on, we lost them too.”

Baloney made it clear she still disagrees with the way her group was handled in court, and the decision that went against them, but still said she does not plan any court challenge to revive the case at this time.

“I’m just saying that for this time I don’t plan any appeal,” she said.

Even though she spent undoubtedly thousands of dollars of her personal money paying a legal team to help her in the case, she still said she didn’t regret the effort.

“It was the right thing for the town,” she said. “So there is no looking back, and absolutely no regrets on what I tried to do.”