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?
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, December 10, 2013:
For the first time in at least five years, retired teachers, state workers and school system employees could see an increase in their pension checks.
Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration shared a collective sigh of relief with the news that Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in the $200 million that they used to help balance this year's budget.
Drew Brees often makes the extraordinary look routine, particularly during night games in the Superdome.
The Cane Fire Film Series will be screening The Savoy King, a feature documentary on Swing-era drummer-bandleader Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, and Harlems Savoy Ballroom.
The teams were extended invitations Sunday for the New Year's Day matchup played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Outfit Of The Game looks at jewelry
Holiday party with style
Funds will expand Early College Academy from 250 to 1,000 students
Let ’em know and you could win a $250 night out.
Paul’s customer giveaway named
Some of the many events taking place this weekend include The Festival of Light and the Fire & Water Festival.
Appropriate for the season of giving, exhibit features behind-the-scenes images of beloved icon.
Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by 12 this week to 1,775.
The state labor department figures released Friday show the initial claims decreased to 1,850 from the previous week's total of 2,854. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 4,048.
If all 44 projects are approved, about $300 million would remain in the fund set up as a down payment to help the Gulf.
Last week, the Saints gave up 429 yards to Seattle, second most in a game this season.
kiki hosting designer’s latest
Laid back cuts for the NOLA Bowl
Flavors of mama’s holiday sweet treat with a twist