Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Repealing the Lafayette Home Rule Charter and returning to separate governments for the city and parish of Lafayette is an ideological exercise that everyone — no matter their political stripe — should support. It cuts to one of the most fundamental tenants of democracy: representation. It is rankly unjust that people who do not live in the city Lafayette, who are neither subject to its property tax nor stakeholders/customers of its utility system, would have a voice at the table. Where residents in the small towns, through their representation on the City-Parish Council, have a vote in matters pertaining only to the city of Lafayette, the Hub City enjoys no reciprocal influence. And it shouldn’t.
It is astonishing that the Tea Party of Lafayette, with its zeal for the Founders, would fail to support this most basic tenant of American democracy and instead oppose charter repeal on the myopic grounds that it will cost more and multiply the number of elected officials in Lafayette Parish. More government, in this case, is more democracy, with one council focused specifically on the parish and another on the city.
Indeed, splitting LCG into two governments will cost more. But even if former Lafayette Charter Commission member Don Bacque’s estimate that two governments will cost $2 million more per year is accurate — it’s inflated in our view — that comes to about $8.65 per resident per year. Eight bucks and some change. If fellow commission member Bruce Conque’s estimate is accurate — we believe it is more reasonable — and the cost is closer to a quarter million dollars, the annual per capita cost will be about a dollar. One dollar.
And for what? For what Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott and Youngsville have always had and will continue to have no matter what happens at the polls Saturday: self-determination.
There’s a clause in the Lafayette Consolidated Home Rule Charter approved by voters in 1992 that allows any municipality within Lafayette Parish to opt in to LCG, to join “consolidated” government. In the 15 years since the creation of LCG, none has opted in.
Why would the small towns not embrace consolidation? Because they knew in 1992 and they’ve known ever since that self-determination and autonomy are fundamental to effective governance. And how is it that while the smaller towns chose in the early ’90s to remain separate and sovereign, they nonetheless got to vote not only on whether to consolidate, but every four years they help elect members of the CPC?
Only one city in Lafayette Parish is part of “consolidated” government — the parish seat, Lafayette. And based on population trends, a day will come, if Saturday’s proposition fails, when the city of Lafayette will be the minority vote on the City-Parish Council, which is the governing authority for the city of Lafayette. The milquetoast slogan “Amend it, don’t end it” and talk of a “Hefner Plan” are Pollyanna poppycock: The current council wouldn’t have the will to initiate charter amendments, and who knows what the next council will look like? We can’t kick this can down the road.
LCG is a monumental misnomer, or a product at least of wishful thinking. Government in Lafayette is not and has never been consolidated. There are separate books for the city and parish within LCG. City-generated revenue must be spent on city projects and vice versa. What is consolidated are services, those shared by the city and unincorporated Lafayette Parish. And those services are provided by city of Lafayette resources — the trucks, the bulldozers and backhoes, the manpower, all of it belongs to or collects a paycheck from the city of Lafayette. This will not change if the charter is repealed and we return to the separate forms of government. Inter-governmental agreements will be transacted. Unincorporated Lafayette Parish will receive the same level of service it has always received, which was poor before consolidation and has been poor since due to annexations by the six cities in Lafayette Parish. This has always been the case, before consolidation and since. Recall the squabbles between Lafayette, Broussard and Youngsville over Ambassador South last year. Consolidation has never been a salve for inter-municipal acrimony.
If you live in one of the smaller municipalities in Lafayette Parish, ask yourself, would you be OK with someone from outside your city having a say, a vote, in the affairs of your city? How about residents from surrounding parishes having a decision-making role in LCG, or people from Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas having seats and votes in the Louisiana Legislature? They are after all neighbors who live across imaginary parish and state lines who share many regional commonalities with us.
Repealing the charter is not a divorce. This was never a marriage. A yes vote is a vote to give the city of Lafayette the fundamental right to self-governance that every other town in the parish has always had. It’s the democratic thing to do. The right thing to do. Vote yes.
NOT SO FAST ON THE LPSS TAX PROPOSITION
Because that’s what we’re doing: moving fast and possibly biting off more than we can chew, and doing it without sound, trustworthy leadership in place at the central office, which is central to our opposition to the property tax proposition at this time. That’s an important caveat — “at this time” — because we are prepared and eager to support an ambitious upgrade to our public education infrastructure, just not at this time. Notwithstanding that we now live in dire economic times and a 30 percent property tax increase will be onerous for many, we opined earlier this year that the lack of a competent superintendent in place would preclude us from supporting this massive expenditure. We believe that today.
This position is not taken lightly, and it is not the unanimous opinion of this editorial board. We don’t dispute the need for several new schools, major renovations and repairs to others and expansions elsewhere. Our public school students deserve good facilities, and most do not have them in 2011. We further acknowledge supporters’ argument that putting off the Facilities Master Plan will mean higher costs, but that is an argument that ignores low inflation and the likelihood that increased sales and property taxes in the future will at least partially offset an increase in costs.
Though we are encouraged by nascent progress made in the past few months in the search for a new superintendent, we have shaky confidence at best in the board’s maturity and ability to hire the kind of super who will inspire public trust in the management and academic outcomes of our school system.
Get us a good super and we’ll get behind a tax.
in case you missed it