Written by Walter Pierce
Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Two hours of the April 20 City-Parish Council meeting should be required viewing for every 10th grader in the parish.

Councilman William Theriot was right last Tuesday — the substitute ordinance submitted by his colleague, Kenneth Boudreaux, expanding the discretion of the charter commission really was about the city of Lafayette maintaining its political power.

And Theriot’s fellow parish-majority council member, Jared Bellard, was savvy in pointing out how many “best of” lists the city of Lafayette has landed on in the last few years before asking, “What is so broke with this government?” It had a rhetorical purity that would impress a debate team coach.

But where Theriot was off, from my admittedly city-centric point of view, was in intimating that preservation of political power is a bad thing. Political power means self-determination, a quality upon which the city of Lafayette now has but a tenuous grasp, and it’s a grasp that is slipping.

With Bellard I would agree that nothing is broken with consolidated government, but the machinery is fundamentally flawed. That critical defect, which from a city perspective has already begun stripping metallic fibrils from the gears, is that Lafayette Parish was never truly consolidated. The finances of the parish and city remain separate. And letting the small towns opt out of consolidation and remain separate has poisoned the pond. The only municipality in the parish that surrendered its sovereignty to consolidation was Lafayette and, giving comfort and quarter to cruel irony, it was city voters who were instrumental in securing consolidation’s victory at the ballot box in 1992.

The city, it seems to many within her bosom, has thrived in spite of consolidation.

Irrespective of one’s position on deconsolidation, last Tuesday was civics of a high order. One city-majority councilman who didn’t want to go on record told me after the meeting adjourned, “For maybe the first time since I was elected, I walked away from a council meeting feeling proud.” Humility in victory is the theme here. The four parish-majority councilmen stepped into a parliamentary Waterloo; with the quartet unified in its opposition to deconsolidation, its will was impregnable because of the mandate that a six-vote super majority is needed to advance deconsolidation to the ballot.

But the city bloc outmaneuvered, outflanked and outfoxed the parish guys. Purvis Morrison seemed resigned to it from the jump, wearily acknowledging the fait accompli. Jay Castille, who has taken to politics in two and a half years in office like a babe to the breast, brushed it off with aplomb. But Theriot and Bellard were clearly frustrated by the end run the city men did around the super majority requirement.

I can’t say yet that I favor repealing the charter, and I don’t speak for the editorial board at this paper, but giving the charter commission discretion to explore all options including deconsolidation was the right thing to do. The original ordinance tethered the charter commission to but a few options, none of which included repealing the charter.

And the way in which geography, not ideology, aligned these men — two Democrats and two Republicans from the parish versus two Democrats and three Republicans from the city — was proof that politics on the local level bears little resemblance to the bog on the Potomac.

Presumably the people appointed to the commission — five city residents and four from unincorporated Lafayette Parish — will be thoughtful, conscientious and engaged. If in their opinion and through their votes repeal of the charter is the best course, so be it, because no matter what the commission recommends, ultimately parish voters will decide. And that’s civics of the highest order.

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