Baton Rouge business leaders are gearing up for a campaign to educate the public about what they see as the potential negative impacts the proposed city of St. George could have on the parish at large.
On Nov. 21, a group of about 40 business and community leaders were quietly invited to a meeting at the St. George Catholic School to get a preview of the St. George financial impact study, which was released to the media the following week, according to one of the attendees who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak on the group’s behalf.
At the meeting, Mike Polito, president of MAPP Construction and a former chairman of the BRAC board, told the group he would be spearheading a fundraising campaign under the name Community Issues Inc.
A nonprofit organization named Community Issues Inc. was registered with the Secretary of State on Oct. 30.
Baton Rouge attorney Charles Landry is listed as the group’s director.
Landry declined comment in an email response to questions, and Polito did not respond to messages left at his office and an email seeking comment.
According to the participant who provided an account of the meeting, the speakers included Baton Rouge Area Chamber President Adam Knapp and William Daniel, the chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden. Holden was not present at the meeting.
Other leaders who attended were Shaw Group founder Jim Bernhard and Baton Rouge Area Foundation leaders John Davies and John Spain.
BRAF spokesman Mukul Verma said Tuesday that the organization is not involved in the campaign and is not taking a political position regarding St. George.
“Our only role in the St. George debate is to provide independent data and information that helps people decide on the issue,” Verma said. “It continues our tradition of offering research as a guide for promoting improvements across South Louisiana.”
BRAC spokeswoman Lauren Hatcher said in an email, “BRAC is not involved in this.”
Both BRAC and BRAF funded the 28-page financial impact study of St. George which stated Baton Rouge would face a $53 million budget shortfall if St. George were to successfully incorporate.
Holden also did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. However, he confirmed to the Baton Rouge Business Report that the group was formed by business interests concerned about the proposed city.
Norman Browning, a leader of the St. George effort, said the leaders who are opposing St. George are the same leaders who have failed Baton Rouge on a variety of other issues in recent years.
“These are the same business people, the very same people that pulled together and supported CATS, who told us we’d get a Loop in Baton Rouge for traffic,” Browning said. “These are the same leaders who keep saying we need better education but haven’t done anything to bring better education to Baton Rouge.”
Browning questions the claims of groups like BRAF and BRAC that they haven’t taken a side. He said he believes they are the ones recruiting and appointing the people who will end up putting their face on the opposition effort.