Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce

A critical step toward addressing Lafayette’s political issues is about to commence.

We’ll have a pretty good idea before the next issue of The Independent Weekly drops who will comprise the charter commission. Tuesday, May 18, is the deadline to submit résumés. Nine registered voters in Lafayette Parish — five from the city and four from the unincorporated parish (but none from the five small towns) — will be selected from that pool of candidates, their appointments divvied up among the city-majority and parish-majority council members and City-Parish Prez Joey Durel.

The commission will have nine months to dig through our 58-page constitution, figure out what works, what doesn’t, or if the whole thing should be scrapped and Lafayette should return to a city government and a parish government.

The huge “if” dangling over the charter commission’s work — and it would be the most dramatic modifier of our means of governance — is total consolidation, that is, abolishing the small town governments and having one truly consolidated government for the parish. Language in the ordinance creating the commission is vague on whether that’s an option. But even if the commission recommends it, it’s not likely to happen. In the 14 years since LCG’s creation, the smaller municipalities in the parish have grown toward the money — Carencro has grabbed hold of Interstate 49, Scott and Duson have developed around I-10, Broussard has turned U.S. Highway 90 into a cash conduit.

The only municipality in the parish that stands to benefit in any way by blending into LCG is Youngsville. The town is overwhelmingly residential, and its sales tax base has long strained to generate enough revenue to provide services to its suburban sprawl. But with Youngsville’s recent annexation on the Ambassador Caffery extension, along with the opening of Chemin Metairie Road, the town is looking ahead to a considerable expansion of commercial development.
And there’s also the question of identity. Lafayette Parish’s small towns have their separate characters, and the residents in the unincorporated parts of the parish are more likely to identify with the closest small town than they are with urban Lafayette. I would suggest that as these towns attach their siphons to the corporate sources of revenue along interstates they risk losing that identity, but at the same time, those revenues increasingly make the small towns financially independent.

The legalities of total consolidation remain shifty, but unquestionably each town must make the decision, should it come to that, internally. As with the consolidation vote in 1992 in which the city of Lafayette had to vote in favor in order for consolidation to be approved — we’ve chewed long enough now on the irony that not only did the city of Lafayette approve consolidation, but it was also on the basis of that majority vote within the city that consolidation won parishwide — so it is with the towns. If the parish as a whole were to vote for total consolidation, that approval would have to be reflected within the towns. We can’t make Broussard or Carencro give up their mayor and council unless the residents there vote to do so. They are sovereign municipalities.
Total consolidation appears to be the least likely recommendation that could come from the commission. It’s probably safe to assume that improving the existing charter will be the preferred course, with deconsolidation a distant second.

Unlike virtually every other appointed commission in the state of Louisiana, Lafayette’s charter commission members will not be required to disclose their finances. There’s little doubt this will make serving on the commission more attractive and should widen the field of candidates. But it should also raise concerns. For example, what if a city resident appointed to the commission also owns land in the unincorporated parish? Would such competing interests affect the votes of that commission member?

At just beyond the halfway point in collecting candidate résumés, let’s cross our collective fingers and hope they’re engaged, conscientious, knowledgeable candidates, and that the council and parish president apply those same adjectives to the selection process.

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