After more than two and half hours of debate and discussion, the Lafayette City-Parish Council approved by a 5-4 vote a substitute ordinance creating a charter commission with greater leeway in what it recommends, including the recommendation that the City-Parish Home Rule Charter be repealed and Lafayette return to dual city and parish forms of government that were in effect before 1996.
As expected, the discussion, debate and the votes — on amendments to the substitute ordinance and on the ordinance itself — were largely along city and parish lines; the five city-majority council members comprising a simple majority on the nine-member CPC voted in unison. Sponsored by District 4 Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, the ordinance that passed Tuesday night replaces the original ordinance creating a charter commission that was submitted by District 2 Councilman Jay Castille. That original ordinance only gave the charter commission discretion to review and recommend amendments to the Home Rule Charter, but not to recommend repeal.
Jared Bellard (District 5) and William Theriot (District 9) were the most outspoken parish-majority council members to oppose the substitute ordinance. Both have repeatedly stated their opposition to deconsolidation.
Citing a litany of “best of” lists the city of Lafayette has landed on in the last couple of years, Bellard took an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” tack in attacking the substitute ordinance and the very concept of deconsolidation: “So what is wrong, what is so broke with this government with all this great information?” he asked. “I would just like to know what is wrong with this current form of government.”
Theriot channelled American history, bookending his initial input on the matter with the rhetorical offering, “United we stand, divided we fall.” But Theriot may have been the most prescient of the bunch with his observation, “Do you want to know the true reason this debate is taking place? Preservation of political power.”
Boudreaux’s substitute ordinance also shortens the time the commission will have to work from 18 months to nine, a contraction that Bellard likened through his repeated use of the word “shove” to recent legislation on health care reform in Congress.
But ultimately the city men cleaved to the argument that the substitute amendment is not about deconsolidation, it is merely about expanding the purview of the charter commission and, ultimately, letting parish voters decide. “What is wrong with expanding the scope of what we’re asking the people to do?” Boudreaux asked of his parish colleagues.
The charter commission that will be created will now be unfettered in what it can recommend — anything from minor adjustments to the current charter to repeal of the current charter to total consolidation of the parish, that is, dismantling the governments in the smaller municipalities and going “whole hog,” as District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand is fond of saying. City Parish President Joey Durel said at the meeting that he doesn’t anticipate deconsolidation arising from the commission’s work. “I would be stunned if their first move was to repeal consolidation,” he told council members.
The way the commission will be selected is also a departure from Castille’s original ordinance. District 3 Councilman Brandon Shelvin offered an amendment to Boudreaux’s substitute ordinance allowing all nine council members voting together to appoint seven of the nine commission members — four from the city and three from unincorporated Lafayette Parish; and to let Durel appoint one commission member from the city and one from the unincorporated part of the parish. Castille’s ordinance gave four appointments to the city-majority members, three to the parish-majority members and two to Durel, with the city and parish council members voting as separate bodies. Bellard expressed concern that Shelvin’s commission-appointment amendment would stack the commission in favor of the city, nonetheless, it passed by a 5-4 vote with all five city-majority council members voting for the amendment.
District 1 Councilman Purvis Morrison also proposed an amendment requiring the commission, if it recommends repeal of the charter, to create alternative charters for the parish and the city. That amendment was approved by a 6-3 vote, with Morrison joining the city men on the vote.