Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Politics making strange bedfellows is an abused cliche, but truth can often be divined in its bruises. The 5-4 vote hanging over the fate of the traffic camera program in Lafayette is proof. Last week the margins on the council — the three most conservative members and the two most liberal members — folded together into a simple majority and voted in favor of the introductory ordinance that would let consolidated government’s contract with Redflex, the SafeLight/SafeSpeed vendor, expire next month, effectively closing the shutters on the red-light cameras and speed vans. The council’s political middle — two moderate Republicans and a pair of moderate Dems — joined together to vote against the ordinance, in other words in favor of SafeLight/SafeSpeed.
There’s no reason to believe this vote will stand when the ordinance is up for final adoption next week, which is really beside the point of this column. But let’s say it does and roll out some scenarios.
No. 1: Last week’s May Day vote stands and the program is quashed by a 5-4 margin. City-Parish President Joey Durel, a camera proponent, vetoes the ordinance, setting up a veto override. The four councilmen who voted against the ordinance — in favor of the cameras — are not swayed. Durel’s veto stands. The contract is renegotiated. SafeLight/SafeSpeed survives.
No. 2: One of the four councilmen changes his mind and joins the anti-Redflex simple majority, bulking it up to a veto-quashing super majority. The Redflex contract expires. The cameras are removed from the intersections.
Regardless of our personal positions on the cameras, the millions of dollars in revenue they generate for consolidated government or the public safety aspect, arguable though it may be for some, I have a real problem with scenario No. 2, and not because I’m in favor of the cameras.
My unease with No. 2 is because this is a city of Lafayette program operated entirely within the city of Lafayette. But a pair of “parish” councilmen — the chairman and vice chairman, who don’t live in the city of Lafayette, pay no city of Lafayette property taxes, represent barely 10,000 Lafayette city residents combined and, most galling, have no camera-equipped traffic signals within their districts — are the galvanizing force behind this initiative to do away with the cameras. This, to me, is a kind of political carpetbagging — outsiders meddling in city affairs.
The elegantly simple solution I proposed a couple of years ago — a weighted vote — was greeted with much fanfare. By chirping crickets.
There are nine seats on the City-Parish Council representing a parish population of about 221,000 residents, according to the 2010 census. But consolidated government isn’t truly consolidated, as we all know: City finances/affairs are separate from parish affairs, and the council routinely votes on ordinances that pertain to one or the other but not both. Yet on city-only matters the votes of council members who represent few city constituents are equal to the votes of those councilmen who represent many city folk. That’s unfair, from my admittedly biased city perspective.
Here’s the remedy: District 6, for example, which has the most city residents — more than 22,000 — represents about 19 percent of the city’s 120,000 souls. District 9, the most populous district overall with roughly 30,000 residents but with the fewest city residents — 4,000 and change — represents roughly 3 percent of the city.
So on a vote that pertains only to the city of Lafayette, District 6’s vote would count for 19 percent whereas District 9’s would amount to only 3 percent. The percentages of the council districts’ city representation add up to 100, but the districts with the most city residents would have the greatest power in city matters, to the point that a three-district minority in a 6-3 vote on a city matter — if that minority comprises city-centric Districts 6, 7 and 8, which represent about 52 percent of all city residents — would carry the day. But it wouldn’t, to put it differently, be a three-seat minority winning the vote; it would be a 52 percent majority winning the vote.
This is the most democratic means of protecting everyone’s interests, and one I’m confident our council leadership will enthusiastically embrace.
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