Playing the dual role of government custodian and visionary for the future, City-Parish President Joey Durel was in his element Monday evening at the Robicheaux Recreation Center before a crowd of about 30 residents — 20 percent of them staff members and other parish officials — as he launched his so-called listening tour. Dubbed “Lafayette Tomorrow ... Begins Today,” the series of town hall-style meetings will be held in community centers across the parish during the next several weeks.
Sans a tie and the stiff conventions of council meetings, Durel fielded questions of both grievance and growth — the Allied garbage-collection contract, Lafayette’s population in 20 years — during a two-hour, informal, one-on-one with parish residents. Not coincidentally, the tour launched just two weeks before the Consolidated Council finalizes Durel’s proposed budget — a document that was frequently amended during four weeks of hearings and one the city-parish president has vowed to stipple with his veto pen.
Prompted by a question from resident Howard Cornay, Durel projected Lafayette’s growth at 1 percent over the next two decades. Currently, according to Durel’s count, Lafayette’s city population stands at roughly 123,000; the parish is pushing just over 215,000. Referring to a Baton Rouge prognostication that Lafayette is poised to become Louisiana’s most populous city, Durel said, “I don’t want that. Nobody in here wants that.” But the city-parish president did acknowledge gains made to the misfortune of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina: “I’ll tell you, wherever the creative class lands is the community that thrives.”
Proving repeatedly that he is at the very least an effective and energetic booster for the parish, Durel fed the largely middle-aged crowd: “Everything I do is about preparing Lafayette for the future,” and the equally inspiriting, “My goal has always been to make Lafayette the best place to live and raise a family. If we do that, the rest will come.”
Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley was also there, looking on from the back row, joined in the gathering by councilmen Don Bertrand, Sam Dore and, arriving near the end, Councilman Brandon Shelvin. District 7’s Bertrand, the most sympathetic of all council members to initiatives championed by the Durel administration, made a point of again publicly endorsing the comprehensive master plan for the parish's growth, throwing down a gauntlet at the feet of fellow council members both absent and present: “My challenge to the rest of the council members is ... if you’re not going to implement the plan ... then we’re not doing our job ...I commend you, Joey, for at least having a Plan B, and I hope the rest of the council members hear what you have to say.”