A Thursday meeting at Duson City Hall of the Lafayette Council of Governments provided an opportunity for some of Lafayette’s municipalities to delineate what they believe is the timeline of grievances that has led to the current angst in the parish, particularly south Lafayette Parish, over annexations. The gathering, which included a barbecue dinner, was a mostly jovial affair. However, the key players in Lafayette’s current tussle over acquisitions of unincorporated areas — Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais, Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator and Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel — were not in attendance.
Carencro Mayor Glenn Brasseaux, a political veteran in the north Lafayette Parish city, attributed the land grab mentality that currently characterizes intergovernmental politics in the parish to late Lafayette Mayor Kenny Bowen. Irascible and combative according to some, the three-term mayor (1972-1980, 1992-1996) was the last chief executive of the city of Lafayette before consolidation.
“The only thing I can say,” Brasseaux told the roughly 20 people assembled, “is this goes back a number of years. It all started with Kenny Bowen, who wanted to conquer Lafayette Parish.” There were no objections to Brasseaux’s recollection of the genesis of the parish’s annexation fights, and Scott Mayor Hazel Myers later echoed it.
Also emerging at the meeting was a sense that the small towns are framed as “the bad people,” as Brasseaux put it, thwarting the city of Lafayette’s growth. “They blame the small towns for keeping the city of Lafayette from growing,” he said of a conventional wisdom among many in Lafayette. “That just tears me up.” [Editor’s Admission: The subhead of The Independent Weekly’s April 7, 2010 cover story, “Land Grab” reads, “The parish’s small towns are hemming in the city of Lafayette, threatening to diminish our influence and hamper our growth.”]
Another common thread that ran through the annexation discussion was identity — that residents living in rural, unincorporated Lafayette Parish, while they would prefer to remain independent of any municipality, will nonetheless identify with the closest small town and not with the more urban city of Lafayette. Besides, Brasseaux asserted, forced to choose between Lafayette and a small town, rural residents will almost always opt for a small-town government to provide their services. “The main reason they want to come into the smaller towns is they know they can call [Scott Mayor] Hazel [Myers] at 2 a.m. Try to call Joey Durel at two in the morning,” Brasseaux said. “Try to get a pothole fixed under Lafayette Consolidated Government. …The smaller the government, the more efficient you are.”
City-Parish Council Chairman Jay Castille, who also serves as COG chair, agreed with Brasseaux’s observation that much of the current suspicion among Lafayette Parish’s municipalities is the result of “hard feelings from the past.” But Castille struck a conciliatory tone throughout the meeting. “I think we know where everybody stands as far as annexation,” he said. “We have a lot of more work to do. …I’m trying to diffuse many of the issue out there — they’re hot-button issues — but they’re going to take care of themselves.”