City-Parish President Joey Durel is adding “former” to his government title. In a stunning turn of events mid-day Friday, Durel announced that he is resigning his position as chief executive of Lafayette Consolidated Government effective immediately and has appointed himself executive director of the beleaguered Lafayette Housing Authority. The move evidently bears the imprimatur of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which assumed control of the LHA earlier this week. The switch in job titles carries with it a significant hike in pay for Durel, who will go from earning roughly $96,000 annually as city-parish president to the more substantial salary of $186,000 as head of the housing agency, with another $26,000 in perks that include use of an LHA van and a hair and clothing allowance.
“This is in the best interest of not only the LHA, but LCG as well,” Durel says in a brief press release announcing the move. “I plan to run the federally subsidized LHA just as I did consolidated government — like a business.”
Utilizing a little-known clause in the Lafayette Home Rule Charter, Durel convened an emergency meeting of the City-Parish Council Friday morning, which voted to appoint District 9 Councilman William Theriot as interim city-parish president. Theriot will have the option of seeking either his council seat or the city-parish president position this fall since both jobs are up for re-election. The council will consider nominations to fill Theriot’s council seat at its next meeting.
Reached via cell phone at Country Cuisine, where he was dining and playing bourrée wtih friends Friday afternoon, Durel defends what LCG’s Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley derides as “despotic.”
“This isn’t about the money,” Durel insists. “It’s about my most vulnerable constituents — constituents who have been underserved by an agency that’s supposed to be helping them. Yes, the money will be better, and I’ll finally be able to buy nice things and have a real River Ranch address, but this is about the children.”
In what will widely be viewed as the extension of an olive branch, Durel also announced that he is reappointing three LHA board members he ousted last year. Joe Dennis, John Freeman and Leon Simmons have each agreed to return to the board.
“With Mr. Durel’s fiscal finesse and his long-standing efforts to help the poorest in Lafayette Parish, I look forward to moving forward,” Dennis says.
It’s unclear whether Durel’s resignation and self-appointment are even legal. Reached late Friday morning, LCG’s chief counsel, Mike Hebert, confirms he’s researching the matter. However, HUD’s Dan Rodriguez, who had taken the post of acting LHA executive director, also defends Durel’s action, saying he believes it would stand up to a legal challenge. “We’re the feds,” Rodriguez says. “We can do what we want.”
Rodriguez also is quick to note that he never wanted to be in Lafayette anyway, away from his family and friends in Houston. Durel’s appointment clears the way for him to return home, as Durel is expected to begin running the agency immediately. HUD had expected to name a new executive director who would take six months to a year to train.
Durel adds that should the Lafayette Charter Commission recommend a deconsolidation proposition and voters approve it, he will consider a run in 2015 for Lafayette mayor. “I love the city of Lafayette — the parish not so much, but definitely the city,” he says. “But right now I got to do what’s in the best interests of LHA clients and Joey Durel.”
[Editor's Note (April 4, 2011): This story is an April Fool's joke. Joey Durel happily remains the city-parish president of Lafayette and intends on seeking re-election this fall.]