Quietly, as other stories dominated the news over the last month, something possibly monumental and definitely overdue for the city of Lafayette was brewing behind the scenes.
A group comprising former Charter Commission members Don Bacque, Bruce Conque and Greg Manuel, along with adman George Graham and attorney Kevin Blanchard, began making the case to influential stakeholders in the parish’s business and political classes that the charter for Lafayette Consolidated Government needs fixing to give the city of Lafayette autonomy in its financial and civic affairs — just like every other municipality in the parish. The end game, they hope, is to place before voters next spring — no one wants to see the measure on the fall 2014 ballot jumbled in with federal, state and local elections — a referendum on redrawing districts in the parish so the city of Lafayette has five districts wholly within the city limits. The proposal would create through those five districts a “city council” within the City-Parish Council that would have sole discretion on ordinances that affect only the city of Lafayette — the budget and Lafayette Utilities System foremost. This isn’t a new idea; it was formerly known as “The Hefner Plan,” after demographer and former school board rep Mike Hefner. Now they’re calling it the Fair and Focused Plan. And it is fair. Currently, city-parish districts are drawn in such a way that most council members represent residents who live in the city, the unincorporated parish and even, in some cases, other towns within the parish. And some of these council members are not residents of the city; they pay no city property taxes and have no skin in the game, yet they vote on things that apply only to the city of Lafayette. That isn’t fair.
Group members I’ve spoken with indicate a general acceptance of the plan by the parties that have heard the pitch — Acadian Home Builders, Realtor Association of Acadiana, among others. Four of the five small-town mayors embrace the concept. (Broussard’s mayor has yet, as of this writing, to meet with the group.) Even the Tea Party folks, I’m told, recognize the basic democratic-with-a-small-d ideal in the city having control of its financial and civic destiny.
The Fair and Focused Plan group grew out of inaction by the council in 2012 to do anything about the charter and Lafayette autonomy, following deconsolidation’s electoral defeat the previous fall. Not coincidentally, the council was chaired and vice chaired that year by Jared Bellard and William Theriot, respectively, parish guys who seem happy to keep the city of Lafayette under a rural thumb.
“We think this thing needs to be moved forward,” says Conque, who championed deconsolidation two years ago.
Group members have been stressing that the plan wouldn’t affect consolidation or the already-separate budgets of the city and the parish. We would still have a city-parish president. It wouldn’t cost anything to do this, as in no new taxes. Nothing about LCG would be affected. The only change is that on ordinances or resolutions that involve only the city of Lafayette — whether to use city funds to purchase the Horse Farm or grant LUS a rate hike, for example — only those “city council” members would vote. The other four council members would sit out such votes.
But here’s the rub: In order to fast-track the creation of a charter commission — the first step in creating a ballot initiative for spring 2014, which must be vetted by the Department of Justice, secretary of state and others — it has to clear the City-Parish Council, and that’s far from a given. Four council members, all representing mainly outside-of-the-city constituencies, probably won’t vote in favor of creating a commission: Bellard, Jay Castille, Kevin Naquin and Theriot. Four of the five “city” council members — Don Bertrand, Kenneth Boudreaux, Keith Patin and Brandon Shelvin — are on board. That’s 4-4. The swing vote is Andy Naquin, whose 6th District is the only on the council that is completely within the city of Lafayette. But, alack, he has pretty much toed the Bellard-Theriot line since coming into office.
The former Charter Commission members who have been making the presentations hope their fellow former commissioners will agree to serve on a new Charter Commission to avoid the steep learning curve the 2011 commission faced. The thinking is, the work of a reconstituted commission will be faster and more fluid, accommodating the tight timeline for getting a measure before voters next spring.
For Greg Manuel, a prominent home builder and former Charter Commission member who embraced the Hefner Plan early, it’s time to move on this. “Get it in front of the people,” he says. “Let’s explain to them what it’s about and let’s give them another chance. They only had one choice last time: no change or radical change.”
The Fair and Focused Plan is modest change that rights a listing LCG, benefitting the city of Lafayette without jeopardizing the “benefits” of consolidation. What’s not to like?
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
Queen Evangline and King Gabriel ruled Tuesday night
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
IND Style does Gabriel
Newsy bits for the fam
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.