After about three hours of passionate and sometimes pointless pontificating by both the public and the politicians, the Lafayette City-Parish Council Tuesday voted in favor of an ordinance that prohibits open alcohol containers downtown and on the Simcoe and McKinley strips. The law exempts certain city-sanctioned events like Mardi Gras, Downtown Alive!, ArtWalk and Festival International.

The so-called “go cup ordinance” passed by a 5-4 margin, with Councilmen Purvis Morrison (District 1), Jay Castille (2) Sam Dore (6), Don Bertrand (7) and Keith Patin (8) voting in favor; Councilmen Brandon Shelvin (3), Kenneth Boudreaux (4), Jared Bellard (5) and William Theriot (9) opposed the measure. The ordinance was voted down in September by the same margin. The difference Tuesday was Morrison, elected in October to be Scott’s next mayor, who changed his mind and voted “aye.”

In what would be a prelude to a cavalcade of downtown residents, business owners and other interested parties addressing the council during the public comment portion, Police Chief Jim Craft defended the ordinance both on constitutional and public-safety grounds: “Courts have ruled that communities can set standards and have certain standards. School zones — you can’t have a firearm in a school zone,” Craft reminded the council. “We do designate certain areas where we have special enforcement rules. ...Communities do it in certain areas at certain times.”

But Craft generally used the soft sell in pressing his case, emphasizing that opposition to the ordinance was not tantamount to opposition to law and order. “It’s back to the drawing board for us if it doesn’t pass,” he acknowledged matter-of-factly.

There was, to the chagrin of those awaiting a vote on the measure, the anticipated, drawn-out litany of allusions to threats to Louisiana culture and “it’s not really a problem” that have bedraggled the debate heretofore. Surprisingly, the most articulate opposition from the public came from attorneys Bill Goode and Kirk Piccione, both of whom have offices downtown.

The former argued that there are already laws that address the problems the go cup ordinance seeks to remedy: “Think about the practical consequence of this. All the laws on the books would take care of any of the situations.” The latter was a champion of individual rights: “Whenever there’s a problem we pass a new prohibition, we put in place another restriction. When people commit crimes with guns we say, ‘Let’s take away guns from everybody.’” (The jury is sequestered in deliberations regarding whether “we” say that, but the counselor’s rhetorical gifts are much admired.)

Others, including fellow downtown attorney Richard Broussard, alluded to the sense of existential and physical jeopardy citizens feel when strolling the gauntlet of Jefferson Street on weekend evenings, clumps of young men aggregated in imposing gaggles, blocking the sidewalks, testosterone steaming from their pores.

Arguably the most compelling argument in favor of the ordinance came from downtown restaurateur and former interim City-Parish Councilwoman Michele Ezell, who spoke in favor of a balance of economic interests downtown, including bars, but noted that the perception of downtown Lafayette has changed in recent years due to the growing problem of crowds that hang out and drink but do not patronize the bars.

“The dynamics of our little district have changed,” Ezell told the council. “It’s clear when we clean up in the morning that some of this activity is not generated by the bars. When I pick up a bottle of Wild Turkey, I can’t think of a bar that sells bottles of Wild Turkey.”

By the time the public comment portion wound to a thankful conclusion, councilmen Boudreaux and Shelvin, opponents of the ordinance from the outset (Shelvin’s District 2 encompasses downtown), spoke passionately about the disparity in priorities by law enforcement. Each represents districts with crime problems that far outpace those of downtown, yet each feels his district is given incommensurate attention by police. Both councilmen suggested, without saying, that race – downtown Lafayette especially has become an increasingly attractive party destination for blacks – may play a role in the perceived urgency of the ordinance.

“This is what Lafayette is resorting to – removing a group of people from a particular area because they’re not wanted,” Boudreaux opined following the public comment portion of the meeting. “Some say this isn’t about race. I hope that’s true.”

Councilman Bertrand, an ardent supporter of the ordinance who was instrumental in reanimating it after its September demise, is credited with the best line of the meeting: “I suggest that Rome is burning and no one smells the smoke.”

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