Wednesday, July 13, 2011
By Walter Pierce

Supporters of charter repeal are gearing up for the October vote.

Bruce Conque is making the rounds of Lafayette Parish with a PowerPoint presentation about Lafayette Consolidated Government and the wisdom in repealing LCG’s Home Rule Charter and returning to separate charters for the city and parish. He’s offering the presentation for a wide array of interests — Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, city councils, et cetera. He’s done several thus far and plans to continue as long as someone is willing to listen. The former city-parish councilman and member of the Lafayette Charter Commission was instrumental in steering the panel toward its recommendation a few months ago that parish voters be given the choice about whether to maintain the status quo or grant Lafayette the autonomy and self-determination it deserves. That Lafayette has to go hat in hand to the rest of the parish and ask for emancipation remains lodged in my craw.

Bruce has a foil in his campaign to win over voters. Don Bacqué, one of Conque’s fellow charter commissioners who opposes repeal, is also making a pitch to civic groups along the lines of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and two governments cost too much. Conque is highlighting the patent inequity of the city of Lafayette being the only municipality in the parish that is governed in part by non-residents — representation without taxation, if you will.

Some worry that Conque is beginning this pro-repeal tour too soon. But the election is just three and a half months away. Moreover, Bruce and many who favor repealing the charter realize this will be a tough sell in Lafayette Parish.

The Oct. 22 ballot will be a big one in Lafayette Parish: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer, insurance and ag commissioner, a seat on the state school board, City-Parish Council, parish-president, assessor, clerk of court and sheriff — assuming incumbents in those posts have competitors. But the proponents of Lafayette autonomy worry, above all, about one ballot item derailing the city’s bid to regain its independence: the school board property tax proposition.

The concern is that the tax prop — a withering increase if you’re of modest means — will be down at the bottom of a very busy ballot alongside the proposition that the Home Rule Charter be repealed. The school board tax looks to be a goner at this point, and if it galvanizes enough angry voters itching to press “no,” the charter proposition could become collateral damage.

As a result, some within the mover-shaker circles in the city of Lafayette who favor what is essentially deconsolidation (of a government that was never really consolidated) have begun a discussion about marshalling some resources to mount a public-awareness campaign: “Press Yes for Progress.” OK, I just made that up, but it’s not bad — better than “Dump the Chumps,” which is what this is really about for many city folk concerned about the possibility of a braying, regressive, vote-no-on-everything element from outside the city — especially, Gosh forbid, teabaggers — becoming a majority on the council and putting the kibosh to some of our more progressive impulses. The horse farm purchase and funding the Acadiana Center for the Arts come immediately to mind as examples.

Even if the school board tax prop weren’t on the ballot, repealing the charter will be a tough sell. Residents in the smaller towns have nothing to neither gain nor lose by repealing the charter, and unincorporated Lafayette Parish will remain a resource-deprived stepchild no matter what. Only the city of Lafayette would benefit, so from a sales perspective, supporters of repeal will need to get a solid majority of the city, which is only about 54 percent of parish, to press yes on Oct. 22 when the inherent unfairness of consolidation from a city perspective will be wagging its tail feathers: Residents in the smaller Lafayette Parish cities, which opted out of consolidation and are fully autonomous, will get a say in whether the city of Lafayette can have the same autonomy as them. 

Yes, I know, a city majority voted for consolidation in 1992. We made our bed and now we’re lying in it. But it’s time to at least change the sheets.

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