As Ben Berthelot moves on to LCVC, Lafayette wonders: What’s next for LCG’s Community Development Department?
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
A typical day at the office last week for Ben Berthelot, soon-to-be former director of LCG’s Community Development Department, included back-to-back meetings to discuss on the one hand his department’s Court Services program with a City-Court judge, and on the other to talk about TicketMaster contracts — “opposite ends of the spectrum,” as Berthelot puts it. It’s all in a day’s labor for a sprawling department that oversees everything from federal housing programs for the poor to court-ordered drug rehabilitation to recreational/cultural components like the Acadiana Park Nature Station and the Lafayette Science Museum.
If there’s a department within Lafayette Consolidated Government that may be accurately characterized as schizophrenic, Community Development is it, at least in terms of the diversity of programs the department administers. But virtually everything CD does falls under a single rubric: helping Lafayette’s economically and socially disadvantaged populations get ahead.
“There’s not a person in America with a résumé that would fit everything we do here,” the lanky, fashion-forward Berthelot points out. “If there is I’d love to meet that person.”
Berthelot was chosen May 4 by a unanimous vote of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission board to take over the LCVC executive director position from Gerald Breaux, who is retiring after more than three decades. Berthelot begins his new job June 11; Breaux will stay on a few weeks to help the new director get his sea legs.
The announcement of Berthelot’s selection reignited some quiet but emphatic conversations within Lafayette’s civically engaged circles about reorganizing Community Development, a sentiment Berthelot’s boss, City-Parish President Joey Durel, has heard and is willing to entertain.
“That’s definitely something that I have been thinking of for three years and is one of the opportunities here, so that’s why I’m not in a big rush [to replace Berthelot],” Durel says. “Some of what community development does looks similar to what Planning, Zoning & Codes does, but [CD’s] money is federal dollars — it’s a little different. I don’t know that combining them would necessarily make it more efficient, but it would make some sense. That’s why I’m not necessarily in a huge rush.”
LCG is awaiting Philadelphia planning firm Wallace, Roberts & Todd to synthesize the first round of community meetings for the Lafayette Comprehensive Plan and to report back, and Durel anticipates WRT offering some suggestions on streamlining operations and eliminating duplication among CD, PZC and Traffic & Transportation, all of which play a role in planning for and accommodating Lafayette’s future growth.
Durel isn’t revealing what his future plans for Community Development are, but he says they won’t interfere with suggestions that may be offered by WRT. And he says he might wait a few weeks or even months to name Berthelot’s replacement, although he admits he plans to appoint someone from Lafayette, possibly someone currently employed by LCG.
“I have people calling [about the position],” Durel says. “I have people internally who would do a fine job with it, so I’m not going to put a whole lot of effort into that.”
Whomever Durel names, the new director will work under a shadow: Department heads serve at the pleasure of the city-parish president, and Durel is serving the final three years of his time in office; a new C-P prez could replace all LCG directors, not that political patronage is prevalent in Louisiana politics or anything. “I think if you appoint good people and they’re doing good work that unless somebody pretty outrageous would get elected, their own work would be their job security,” counters Durel, who kept most of his predecessor’s department heads in place after he took the oath in 2004.
During his two-year tenure as director of Community Development, Berthelot revamped leadership in the department, replacing six managers who had more than 150 years combined experience. He believes whoever gets the job will be in good hands moving forward. “We’re fortunate to have a great leadership team, and I’m just really excited about the people we have in place. One of the sad things about me leaving is I would love to be around to watch them flourish, and I look forward to watching them from the outside.”
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
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