Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Politics gives, and it serves crow. By Walter Pierce

We hitch our buggy to initiatives we believe will advance the quality of life in our community. We advocate for them tacitly, and in the case of the school board election, vigorously and on record. In the span of about 48 hours between Thursday and Saturday nights, we went from elation to deflation to contemplation.

Thursday evening, in a meeting of the City-Parish Council that was relatively painless as far as finalizing the budget goes, the Hub City was a huge winner: By a 7-2 vote with the usual suspects registering their opposition to progress, the council agreed to make a $500,000 down payment on the horse farm. This sets in motion a cooperative endeavor agreement between LCG, UL (the owner of those 100 pristine, rolling acres in the heart of our city, with an emphasis on city) and the Community Foundation of Acadiana in which LCG will purchase the land from the university while CFA bankrolls its development into a passive park.

The losers in this deal are commercial developers, skateboarders, dog owners (the deal includes a land swap giving UL the Youth Park property near the intersection of Lewis and Johnston streets where the skate bowl and dog park are located; they’ll be paved over at some point for expansion of the university) and those whose hearts gurgle and choke on a black bile disguised as fiscal restraint. Presumably a bronze plaque at the park’s entrance commemorating the council and administration who made the park possible will not bear asterisks.

But the council on Thursday also took a step back by amending a smart model designed to take funding decisions for external art and social service agencies out of council politics and put them in the hands of professional panels at the Acadiana Center for the Arts (for issuing arts grants through LCG) and the Community Development Department (for social service agencies). Now the council will once again have veto power over what the grant-writing panels at the AcA and CDD decide are the best allocations of money, opening the process once again to council patronage, grandstanding and nitpicking.

One hopes members of the charter commission watched these votes closely, especially the horse farm; when the city of Lafayette loses its majority on the CPC, and that day will come, slam-dunk initiatives like the horse farm purchase will become half-court Hail Marys.

Nonetheless, Thursday night was, on balance, a good one for the city and the parish.

But 48 hours later our waxen wings melted as the possibility of reform in public education fluttered back to earth with a thud.

The Independent Weekly made endorsements in each of the six competitive seats for the school board — a first for the paper. As it turned out, two of the races were anything but competitive: challengers Dudley LaBauve III in District 6 and Thomas Brown in 7, whom we endorsed over the incumbents, were trounced, and Greg Davis’ four-vote loss in District 2 was the bitterest of pills.

Overall, three of our six endorsements went down to defeat. A fourth, Dean Landry in District 5, is in a runoff, but finished well behind the frontrunner. Among our preferred candidates only Tehmi Chassion in District 4 and incumbent Hunter Beasley in 8 carried the day.

If Landry manages a win in 5, this newspaper will have batted .500 — a great average in baseball but merely average in political handicapping.

The winner in Saturday’s school board election was the school system’s central office, which dreaded the prospect of a reform regime led by Davis taking the reins. So instead of reform, we get at least four more years of patting ourselves on the back for achieving middle-of-the-pack results from our public schools. And voters in the meantime will be asked to fund a $1.1 billion facilities master plan under a board that countenances mediocrity.
Yes, this newspaper is eating some crow this week. It’s runny on the plate, but we’ll digest it. That’s why God invented ketchup.

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