The rural-versus-urban tension that is at the genesis of the Lafayette Charter Commission simmered to the surface during the panel’s first meeting Monday evening in the City-Parish Council auditorium as the nine-person commission, short two out-of-town members, heard from the Durel administration and several councilmen who conveyed their concerns with the current City-Parish Home Rule Charter. The commission will spend the next nine months studying the charter, hearing from representatives of Lafayette Consolidated Government as well as voters, and will make recommendations on improving the charter — including going so far as to recommend repeal of the charter. The commission’s recommendations will go directly to voters, likely in the fall of 2011.
City-Parish President Joey Durel, the first to address the commission, painted consolidated government with mostly broad, positive strokes. “Overall, from a day-to-day operational standpoint, it works pretty good,” Durel told the members, recalling a conversation he had with the mayor of a major city in an unconsolidated county who is at frequent loggerheads with county officials.
Durel told the commission he believes his position should be called mayor-president, rather than city-parish president, and that it should be the highest-paid office in the parish, although Durel was quick to note that he supports those changes taking effect after he leaves office. Roughly 10 officials in LCG, many of them credentialled professionals like Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval, an engineer, earn more than Durel. The current charter places a 10-percent cap on raises for the city-parish president; consequently, after three or four years of receiving cost of living allowances, the parish’s chief executive hits an earning plateau, even though most LCG employees typically receive annual raises in the 3- to 4-percent range. (Few if any are set to receive raises in the 2010-2011 budget Durel submitted to the council last week.)
But Durel expressed concern over what he termed “representation without taxation,” that is, council members who don’t live in the city of Lafayette or pay Lafayette property taxes participating in decisions about the allocation of Lafayette city tax revenue. That is an unavoidable consequence of the form of partially consolidated government adopted by Lafayette Parish voters, and it’s in its most sharp relief with LUS; the city-owned utility, despite being officially governed by the five members of the council who represent city-majority districts, has long been subject to votes of the entire nine-member council, although some of those councilmen represent very few city voters.
That is an especially raw subject for District 8 Councilman Keith Patin, whose district is almost entirely within the city of Lafayette. “I represent more LUS customers than any councilman — close to 30,000,” Patin told the commission, “and yet my vote competes with councilmen who represent 5,000.”
The subject of the city of Lafayette’s autonomy was returned to repeatedly during the meeting, a topic growing in urgency since the receipt of census results next spring could show that the city has fallen to fewer than 50 percent of all residents in the parish. The result — the city losing its five-seat majority on the CPC — is a very real threat to the city’s ability to maintain some level of sovereignty going forward.
District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand, who represents Broussard as well as parts of the city and unincorporated parish, provided commission members with examples of consolidated governments that have a mayor-president, but maintain separate city and parish/county governments. “It’s a hybrid today, and I think it should be a hybrid when you’re done,” he said of LCG, adding that consolidation of services is “probably the biggest success” of our current form of government.
District 9 Councilman William Theriot, the only parish-majority councilman to attend Monday’s meeting and an outspoken opponent of deconsolidation, reiterated his theme that consolidation is best for everyone, including the city of Lafayette. “One cannot survive without the other,” Theriot said, taking issue with the city men’s concerns about the rural vote interfering with city progress. “Has there been one single incident where a parish councilman has destabilized the city of Lafayette?” he asked, answering his own question with an emphatic “no.”
Charter commission member and former District 6 Councilman Bruce Conque recommended that the panel place on its next agenda a discussion about asking voters to approve a one-year extension on the current terms of Durel and the council so that any changes recommended by the commission, if approved by voters, could take effect four years earlier than they would under the current election schedule. “It is critical that we take this initial action now,” Conque told his fellow commissioners, directing LCG's legal department to research the issue.
MAY 22 This post was written the day after the second line shooting in NOLA, by Brentin Mock. Mock is a friend of Deb "Big Red" Cotton, a blogger who was shot in the back and was seriously injured. It is a raw, emotional piece of writing, something the writer obviously felt he needed to get off his chest. But it raises questions that can't be easily dismissed, and might give some insight into where the source of these events truly is.
MAY 22 In this Baton Rouge Business Report post, Rolfe McCollister considers the privatization of bus service in Baton Rouge. After decades of under-funding, it is a mess, and although a tax (partially) passed last year, improvement hasn't happened yet. McCollister apparently feels it is time to let private business get in on the transit business.
MAY 22 This post on Bayou Buzz by Jeff Crouere urges the defeat of a bill that would grant modest pay increases over the next several years to the state's judges and clerks of court. The state is in no position to fund pay hikes, Crouere argues, with the pay increases costing a total of $9 million over several years. It sends the wrong message to the (proverbial) hard-working people of Louisiana, he says.
MAY 22 The Advocate reports here that State Treasurer John Kennedy is complaining about a meeting of the corporation that oversees the state's tobacco settlement. The Governor wanted it restructured, and he has some support, but not a lot. The corporation agreed with his plan, but Kennedy didn't, and it appears that the meeting was noticed in a manner completely different than that of all previous meetings. Kennedy's given to hyperbole, but in this case the fish don't smell too fresh.
MAY 22 In this Advocate story, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout says the recent federal indictment of a strip club owner is all wrong. The indictment alleges that drugs and prostitution went on with impunity because club staff made arrangements with "local" police. Stout says it never happened, and while his cops do work security in the parking lot, they're not allowed inside.
MAY 22 This amusing post in DIG Baton Rouge recounts an ad that ran on Craig's List recently; the advertiser was seeking tenants for a Beauregard Town house. He knew his market, and wrote an ad that the most ironical hipster couldn't resist. Apparently, he really did know his market, because the ad worked like a charm.
MAY 22 In this post in The Lens, Mark Moseley comments on the rhetoric Gov. Jindal employed in trying to save his tax "reform" package. One interesting point concerns Jindal's use of his brother, Nikesh, in a little story. Nikesh left Louisiana because of his inability to get a decent job, the story goes, but the story won't hold water: Nikesh lives in DC, which has an income tax level comparable to Louisiana, Moseley says. If income taxes caused the dismal situation, it should exist in DC too. Right?
MAY 22 This post by columnist John Maginnis traces the trajectory of the bill that would fund construction at community and technical colleges -- and bypass the Board of Regents and traditional higher ed funding mechanisms. Sure, it will bust the legislature's self-imposed debt limit, but some leges feel that there's more need (because there is more growth) in the community and technical college area than in the university area, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.