Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce

COG sheds light on Lafayette Parish’s political dynamic.

I attended a meeting of the Lafayette Council of Governments last week in Duson, the parish’s westernmost outpost. COG comprises representatives of the six municipalities in Lafayette Parish — Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Lafayette Consolidated Government, Scott and Youngsville — plus the Lafayette Parish School Board.
Duson City Hall is a low-slung cinder block building across the street from a church at the edge of a tidy neighborhood filled with modest, wood-framed houses. A prayer, the pledge and a barbecue dinner preceded the proceedings.

Four long rows of folding tables draped with patriotic paper cloth and bejeweled with randomly scattered red, white and blue foil-confetti stars filled the main chamber. After-dinner mints in stars-and-stripes wrappers filled jars lined up every four seats or so along the rows of tables, joining flags and other patriotic paraphernalia. It was the most un-selfconsciously ardent room I’ve been in in a long time. Like a church picnic in Mayberry on the Fourth of July.

With adumbrations of fireworks dancing in my head, I attended hoping Charlie Langlinais and Wilson Viator, the mayors of Broussard and Youngsville respectively, would be there. But alas, the foils, whose public squabbles over the Ambassador Caffery South extension have been less than diplomatic, were no-shows.

The assembly reflected geography; most of those in attendance represented Duson and the nearby towns of Scott and Carencro — the “parish people,” as some in the city of Lafayette are wont to call them. They spoke easily among themselves on a first-name basis, trading personal trivia.

Three representatives of LCG — the city people — attended the meeting, seated at the margin, and there was a sense that they were on the outside looking in. Others.

The main agenda item for the meeting was a discussion of annexation in the parish — a topic that has put civility to the test in recent weeks. At one point the conversation veered to what one of the mayors characterized as “hard feelings” from the past, the battles over land and resources that long ago created a climate of suspicion mainly between Lafayette and its smaller neighbors. The parish people traced those grievances back to the headstone of Kenny Bowen, the irascible, three-term mayor of Lafayette. Bowen, who died in 2002, was the last mayor of the city of Lafayette before it hitched its wagon to consolidation. Infamous among them was Bowen’s threats to cut off the supply of clean, drink-from-the-tap Lafayette Utilities System water to the towns and most of unincorporated Lafayette Parish as a means, many believe, to create an incentive for annexation.

Yet LCG data tell a different tale about annexations in the parish going back to the mid-1970s. While Lafayette and Duson have grown about 140 percent in land mass in the last 35 years, Broussard, Carencro and Scott have grown roughly 1,500 percent each, and Youngsville has expanded 6,400 percent. The small towns have clearly been the empire builders in Lafayette Parish, Bowen’s alleged bullying notwithstanding.

I realized that one can learn more about what our parish is, and isn’t, in an hour at a COG meeting than in a month of Lafayette City-Parish Council meetings. A mid-sized city and five small towns (plus two communities — Judice and Milton — that have no elected officials) is what Lafayette Parish is. Monolithic is what it isn’t. Despite being the third-smallest parish in geographic area with the fourth-largest population in the state — in other words, a densely packed place — Lafayette Parish remains a city orbited by satellites intent on preserving their small-town identities.

As the CPC begins interviewing applicants for the charter commission, we’ll see those disparate priorities and competing identities jostle for a place at the table. Let’s hope the process isn’t more Ambassador diplomacy.

One can learn more about what our parish is, and isn’t, in an hour at a COG meeting than in a month of Lafayette City-Parish Council meetings.

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