Written by Walter Pierce
Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Lafayette Parish is not going to deconsolidate any time soon — voters will not be given an opportunity to make that decision in 2010 and likely won’t in 2011, the same year as city-parish council elections. Because of a state law that prevents an elected official’s term in office from being shortened due to a change in government, if the parish doesn’t vote on deconsolidation by spring of next year, the parish likely wouldn’t be able to deconsolidate, assuming a groundswell of support for returning to two governments emerges, until 2016.

But now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath and look a little deeper into the implications of deconsolidation, the idea appears to be cooling. Proof was at the Building Communities Conference last month at Toledo Bend. Sponsored by the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, the weekend event brought together government and private-sector people — the same folks who determine the temperature for most hot topics in our community — to discuss Lafayette’s future both in concrete and conceptual terms. After speaking with some who attended the conference, it’s clear that deconsolidation is falling on our civic thermometer.

That wasn’t the case a few days later on March 22 when City-Parish President Joey Durel hosted a town hall meeting at the Chenier Center. The mood there, cast mainly by black residents from more economically depressed quarters, was let’s deconsolidate now.

One of the underlying assumptions that buttressed the vote in favor of consolidation 18 years ago is that government would work better in Lafayette if the city and parish wed. Eliminate the waste and duplication, streamline the processes and we’ll get better results. But for many in Lafayette’s inner city, we haven’t gotten better results, reduced poverty and crime, separated the dys from the function.

Yet a week later at the deconsolidation meeting in Youngsville, the sentiment was the polar opposite. Overwhelmingly, voters there want consolidated government to remain. Their councilman, William Theriot, said he is “100 percent opposed” to repealing the charter.

The attitude of Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais, with whom I spoke for this week’s cover story, is that the city of Lafayette made its bed and now must lie in it. In 1992 when consolidation came up for a vote, it was a pro-consolidation sentiment in the city that carried the day; a majority in rural Lafayette Parish and the small towns didn’t want to consolidate. And yet here we are in 2010 — the city of Lafayette wants out, the parish wants the status quo. An old adage about being careful what you wish for comes to mind.

What remains universally true from the city’s perspective is that the city of Lafayette must find a way to ensure that in the foreseeable future it doesn’t lose its clout on the city-parish council. Right now the city enjoys a 5-4 majority. But if the demographic trend of residents setting up housekeeping outside the city continues — and demographics are like big ships: they turn slowly — Lafayette will not have a majority in 10 or 20 years.

That is what’s driving calls for deconsolidation, and it’s near the heart of all this anxiety over annexation detailed in this week’s cover story. If the city of Lafayette becomes hemmed in by the small towns and cannot grow its land mass, it can’t take in new residents and, in the view of some, runs the very real risk of becoming the parish’s inner city — a fate that befell New Orleans decades ago and is creeping quickly into Baton Rouge.

Durel had a map drawn up that envisions none of Lafayette Parish being unincorporated; all the municipalities would annex what’s left commensurate with their current size. The parish’s mayors will sit down this month to talk about the map. What happens at the meeting will go a long way in determining the rise or fall of deconsolidation on that civic thermometer.

If the demographic trend of residents setting up housekeeping outside the city continues — and demographics are like big ships: they turn slowly — Lafayette will not have a majority on the council in 10 or 20 years.

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