We knew that the East Baton Rouge Metro Council’s vote last month to annex the Mall of Louisiana – or more specifically, some of the Mall of Louisiana – into the city of Baton Rouge was going to set off a flurry of lawsuits both in and of itself and with respect to the petition to incorporate the city of St. George in the unincorporated southern part of the parish.
And now the first of those lawsuits has been filed. From a press release put out by conservative activist, former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Woody Jenkins today:
The decision of the Metro Council last month to annex portions of The Mall of Louisiana and the Baton Rouge General was challenged Thursday in a suit filed in the 19th Judicial District Court by Baton Rouge resident Woody Jenkins.
The suit, which was filed against the City of Baton Rouge and the Metro Council, said the annexation creates an irrational and unwieldy situation for law enforcement at The Mall of Louisiana. At present, law enforcement at The Mall is provided by the Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish from the Kleinpeter and Burbank substations. But if the annexation goes into effect, Baton Rouge City Police would provide law enforcement in the smaller stores, hallways, restrooms, and some parking lots at The Mall, while the Sheriff would provide law enforcement in The Mall’s four anchor stores — Dillard’s, J.C. Penney’s, Macy’s and Sears — as well as Sears Auto Center, Entergy, TownePlace Suites of Marriott, and other parking lots.
Jenkins said, “As you pull into the parking lot behind Dillard’s Men’s Store, you’d be in the City of Baton Rouge and in the jurisdiction of the Baton Rouge City Police. But as you walk into Dillard’s, you’d leave the city and enter the Sheriff’s jurisdiction. As you leave Dillard’s and walk among the kiosks in the aisles of The Mall, you’d be back in the City of Baton Rouge. Perhaps you’d see a ‘Welcome to Baton Rouge’ sign! As you enter J. C. Penney’s, you’d be back in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction. If you leave out Penney’s back door, you’d be in Baton Rouge, but if you go out Penney’s front door, you’d still be in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction.”
Jenkins said, “Annexing The Mall of Louisiana and the Baton Rouge General is like taking responsibility for a small city because the population of The Mall and the General at any given time can exceed 5,000 people. The Metro Council adopted this bizarre annexation without hearing from the Budget office, BRPD, or the fire department. It didn’t consider the costs, a budget, a timeline, or a plan. It’s unreasonable and an embarrassment to the city. My fear is that BRPD officers will be pulled out of high crime areas to provide coverage to The Mall. The Sheriff is already providing protection to The Mall. Why duplicate what he is doing?”
The suit says, “The annexation fails to meet the requirements of reasonableness, as required by R.S. 33:172 and 33:174. The annexed area skips over contiguous property where there are residents who vote, leaves out of the annexation numerous large commercial properties that are within the outer boundary of the purported annexation for no reason other than that they refused to sign the Petition of Annexation, uses an artificially contrived strip of property belonging to a property owner who did not sign the petition as a means of making the body of land contiguous to city limits, is not in fact contiguous to the city, and is not compact.”
Regarding the required signatures of property taxpayers, the suit says, “The only ‘property taxpayers’ who signed the Petition for Annexation were Mall of Louisiana LLC, Mall of Louisiana Land, LLC, and Level Ventures. The ‘property taxpayers’ within the outer boundary of the purported annexation who did not sign the Petition for Annexation were Kansas City Southern Railroad, DSLD, LLC, TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Sears Auto Center, Entergy, Dillard’s, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, and Sears. A clear majority of the ‘property taxpayers’ within the outer boundary of the purported annexation did not sign the annexation petition. Therefore, it is not valid.”
The suit zeroes in on the annexation of a strip of land owned by the Kansas City Southern Railroad. The strip is essential to making the Baton Rouge General and The Mall of Louisiana contiguous to the City of Baton Rouge. The problem is, Kansas City Southern didn’t sign the petition. Furthermore, the annexation uses a small part of KCS property and does not include the entire tract. The suit says, “State law provides that an annexation must be of a ‘tract, lot, or parcel’ of land. Yet, this purported annexation does not contain the entire tract owned by the railroad but rather a small portion of that tract which the railroad has not subdivided. This purported subdivision and annexation is being done by the City of Baton Rouge without the consent of the railroad. The entire tract is extensive and very valuable. Yet, the Assessor did not certify a valuation either for the larger more valuable tract or for the smaller portion of the tract, which was purportedly annexed. Without suchvaluation, it is impossible to determine whether a majority in valuation signed the petition.”
The suit alleges that the ordinance of annexation was adopted by the Metropolitan Council in clear violation of the mandatory procedural requirements of state law and the Plan of Government, rendering it null and void. It says the ordinance was adopted at the same meeting where it was introduced even though it should have laid over until the next meeting of the Council as required by the Plan of Government. The suit also said the ordinance was invalid because the Metro Council attempted to adopt two separate ordinances — the ordinance which is the subject of this suit and the ordinance to annex Our Lady of the Lake property — with only one recorded vote.
The suit challenges the compactness of the incorporation. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “compact” means “having a dense structure or parts or units closely packed or joined” or “occupying a small volume by reason of efficient use of space.” The suit says, “An annexation cannot have holes in it. Allowing holes in a body of land proposed for annexation would allow the city to simply skip over or leave out of the annexation those property owners who refused to sign the petition, and that is exactly what happened in this case.”
The suit cites R.S. 33:172(A)(5), which says, “Multiple petitions may be used to annex different properties so long as the petitions, when considered together, are capable of covering an area which has a contiguous outer boundary in which the above majority and percentage requirements for annexation are met.” The suit says, “The real point is that an area being annexed must ‘cover’ an area which has ‘a contiguous outer boundary.’ This language is contrary to the idea of annexing properties with holes in it. An annexation that does not ‘cover’ the entire area within the contiguous outer boundary of the annexed area is not lawful.”
The suit does not challenge the annexation of Our Lady of the Lake, which occurred at the same time as the annexation of a portion of The Mall and the Baton Rouge General.
The suit was filed by attorney Alex St. Amant, who recently won a judgment against the Metro Council on the Rouzan development.
Under state law, a trial on Jenkins’ suit must be held within 30 days and a judgment rendered within five days thereafter. State law also provides for an expedited appeals process.