Backtracking on the path toward separate governments for the city and the parish, the Lafayette Charter Commission Monday night voted to keep Lafayette Consolidated Government intact, but to shift control of city-owned Lafayette Utilities System to council members who only represent city residents, according to The Advocate
The development, although not final, is a blow to city residents who hoped an autonomous government separate from the parish — effectively a deconsolidation of LCG and a return to pre-1996 governance — would be a result of the commission’s work. Commissioners must conclude their meetings by mid April and make recommendations that will go to a parishwide vote. Just two weeks ago the commission voted to create separate charters for the city and the parish with each having its own council and mayor/president.
The vote to scrap consolidation cut along city-parish lines, with one exception: Commissioner Don Bacque, a city of Lafayette resident, joined the four parish residents to form a simple majority and approve the motion keeping LCG intact; the four remaining city of Lafayette commissioners voted against the motion. But Bacque’s defection to the parish was not unexpected: He has consistently opposed the idea of repealing the home rule charter and returning to separate forms of government in Lafayette Parish.
Reached Tuesday morning, former city-parish councilman and city of Lafayette commissioner Bruce Conque expressed dismay at Monday’s one-80: “It really was a major setback in seeking autonomy for the city of Lafayette,” Conque said. “While last night’s commission action addresses the issue of LUS governance, it does nothing for the city of Lafayette as an entity. The city budget process would continue to be determined by the City-Parish Council including how revenues are expensed; the city’s general fund, its five-year capital improvement program, LUS Fiber and the Lafayette Public Power Authority.”
The motion maintaining consolidated government in the parish is an apparent bow to what’s become known as “the Hefner plan.” Demographer Mike Hefner, who has addressed and advised the commission on a few occasions, has said he’s confident that when the overlapping council and school board districts are redrawn this spring, five city districts wholly within the city can be configured. This, Hefner maintains, would allow for the creation of a city council within the City-Parish Council and would solve the prickly issue of both the Lafayette Public Utility Authority and the full council, which includes councilmen who are not LUS stakeholders, voting on matters pertaining to LUS.
The commission will not meet Monday due to Lundi Gras, but Conque says he will be scrambling to find a way for the city to gain as much self-governance as possible within what appears to be a newly limited scope of the commission.
“It is my intent to do what is possible to make the best of what is a bad situation,” Conque sayss. “I hope to have some suggestions by the March 14 meeting.”