‘Political purpose’ was city’s motivator, lawsuit filer says
Former legislator and newspaper owner Woody Jenkins said Monday that the recent annexation of the Mall of Louisiana and Baton Rouge General Medical Center into the city of Baton Rouge flagrantly violates both state and local rules, further demonstrating a blatant disregard for the law for the sake of political gain.
Jenkins, speaking at Baton Rouge Press Club, detailed the lawsuit he filed earlier this month challenging the annexation, which he said is riddled with so many violations and procedural problems that he called his suit an “open and shut case.”
“We cannot afford to have our Mayor’s Office and our Metro Council engage in lawlessness for a political purpose,” he said.
Jenkins, chairman of the East Baton Rouge Republican Party, focused on two parcels of land annexed into the city along with the mall and the hospital in order to maintain contiguity. Those, he said, were done unlawfully.
Only land adjacent to the city limits can be annexed. In order for the Mall of Louisiana, which is a sales tax generator for the parish coffers, to be annexed, some other parcels were annexed to create a connection.
Among those parcels was a strip of land owned by Kansas City Southern Rail Road, whose property owners did not sign the annexation petition, and part of Level Ventures LLC, which did sign the petition. Level Ventures had recently sold several of its lots included in the annexation to another company called DSLD LLC, but DSLD did not sign the petition.
Representing the city, attorney Mary Olive Pierson said she wasn’t sure who signed the petition but is confident the rules were followed.
“I know we are very confident that the right amount of people and property owners signed it,” she said. “Who they are specifically, I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
Later in the afternoon, a state district court judge delayed setting a hearing date for the challenge. During a status conference, Judge Janice Clark gave Pierson 15 days from last Thursday to respond to the suit, at which point she said she would set a case management schedule.
Jenkins contends the process to challenge an annexation requires a hearing within 30 days of filing, and then a ruling from the judge within five days of the hearing. He also argues the annexation is on hold until after a judge rules. But Pierson contends the annexation is already in effect, and Jenkins’ lawsuit is an ordinary lawsuit not bound by an expedited hearing schedule.
Pierson will eventually argue that Jenkins doesn’t have standing to file the suit because he doesn’t live in the annexed area. She said he doesn’t have any personal stake in the outcome of the annexation.
But Jenkins, who lives in Baton Rouge, said the Plan of Government allows for any resident to file such suits and said his interest is based on concerns about public safety, which is already being spread too thin.
The annexation means the Baton Rouge Police Department will patrol properties previously covered by the Sheriff’s Office. He also said that only parts of the mall were annexed, because some of the department stores opted out. That, he said, creates a complicated scenario for law enforcement where both entities are protecting different parts of the same campus.
Jenkins stressed that the lawsuit is unrelated to the proposed city of St. George. The Mall of Louisiana became a sticking point for opponents and advocates of the proposed city because of the mall’s value as a sales tax generator and because of legal concerns that annexing the property could invalidate the petition for those seeking a new city.
But at the Press Club meeting, Jenkins freely admitted to supporting the St. George incorporation effort.
“I do support the incorporation because it’s the best hope we have for getting people back into our parish,” he said, adding that people have fled the parish for neighboring areas with less crime and better schools.
Supporters of St. George are actively collecting 18,000 signatures for a petition to put the city proposal on a ballot. Only those who live within the boundaries of the proposed city would get to vote on the proposal.