Lafayette residents hoping significant changes to consolidated government stemming from the charter commission can come sooner than later got a dose of reality Wednesday night as Pat Ottinger, legal counsel for Lafayette Consolidated Government, told commissioners he fears that due to the commission’s time line as well as federal requirements for establishing elections, it may be 2016 before any voter-approved changes to our system of government could go into effect. Commission chairman George Lewis asked Ottinger to return a legal opinion on what changes could be accomplished prior to then.
According to the ordinance that created it, the commission is on a nine-month schedule of hearings and deliberations. If it takes the full term, it will not make its recommendation about the charter until late March. Ottinger indicated that it would likely be 2012 before that recommendation — it could be in the form of minor tweaks to the current charter or repeal of the charter altogether — goes before voters in the form of a parishwide proposition. In the meantime, council elections are scheduled for October of next year, and state law prevents an elected official’s term from being shortened. Consequently, a change to the charter or change in government approved by parish voters would have to wait until the new council, sworn into office in January of 2012, completes its four-year term.
The commission is discussing the feasibility of putting before voters ahead of the October 2011 council election a proposition that, if approved, would extend the term of the current council by one year in an effort to get a parishwide charter proposition on a ballot before the expiration of those extended terms. This would allow any changes to Lafayette government approved by voters to take effect in 2013 when a new council is sworn in. Nonetheless, Ottinger didn’t express confidence that the commission could meet or beat such deadlines.
Commissioners on Wednesday spent most of the meeting getting a Power Point overview of LCG finances from Chief Financial Officer Becky Lalumia. Due to budget hearings by the City-Parish Council, the commission is taking the next 18 days off; the panel will meet again on Monday, Aug. 30 for an overview of the Public Works Department.