Oct. 2, 2015 10:47 AM
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The next City-Parish council and mayor will have a lot on their plate over the next four years as Lafayette faces a critical juncture where meeting the demands of growth — not to mention paying for decades of unchecked growth — and financing those demands collide.

Consolidated government’s Public Works Department has identified $150 million in infrastructure needs — mainly fixing rural roads and bridges — in unincorporated Lafayette Parish alone, but its budget for those projects in the next fiscal year is about $300,000. The department’s director opined that it might be necessary to grind some old asphalt roads into gravel to keep them navigable.

Here are some of the issues the next council and mayor will grapple with over the coming years:

Plummeting Sales Tax Revenue

The price of a barrel of oil isn’t going back to $100 any time soon. The slump in oil prices is already affecting the city and parish, with retail sales falling precipitously — 8.3 percent this past July compared to the same month in 2014 — and they’re not expected to recover for quite a while.
Indeed, Lafayette’s economy is much more diversified than it was during the oil bust of the 1980s, but we’re still an oil town. Communities like Broussard will be especially hard hit as the dip in oil prices takes its toll on the Hwy. 90 corridor.

The fall in sales tax revenue will affect the parish’s bonding capacity for new infrastructure projects, and it will hamper our ability to even begin to keep pace with ongoing spending needs. Belt-tightening will be in order, but how? Which leads us to ...

Infrastructure

Roads, roads, roads — it’s what most candidates outside our inner-city districts mention when asked about the most pressing issue facing the parish, and by roads they mean we need to build more of them and widen several existing thoroughfares to reduce traffic congestion, which is approaching suffocation at the busy corridors on the bustling Southside.

Consultants hired by LCG to study our infrastructure needs say a typical household in Lafayette would need to pay an additional $3,300 in property taxes annually just to maintain the roads we currently have; to maintain all infrastructure — drainage, sewer, water, etc. — that figure rises to about $4,000. And that’s just to maintain what we’ve already built — not to fund a new Vermilion River bridge at South City Parkway or South College Road to alleviate traffic congestion, or to widen existing roads in the south of the parish.
Oh, and we need a new parish courthouse, too.
Something has to give, which leads us to ...

Schools

Believe it or not, the next council will need to worry about schools, or rather be attuned to the school board and its inevitable need to ask voters for additional taxes to fund school construction, which will have an impact on voters’ willingness to fund roads and other priorities. There’s only so much salad at this buffet, whether it’s a temporary, dedicated sales tax akin to the airport tax being levied right now, a hike in an existing millage or a new property or sales tax.

The council and the school board will need to coordinate their priorities to ensure that limited resources, especially in a climate of falling sales-tax revenue, are equitably spread. The board and council used to hold quarterly joint meetings but stopped a few years ago. That should resume. And speaking of spreading the burden equitably ...

Recreation

We all want nice public parks, ball fields, golf courses and recreation centers. That’s a basic quality-of-life issue.
Lafayette Consolidated Government maintains 36 parks, 10 rec centers, four swimming pools, three golf courses, two tennis centers and a bunch of other activity fields. But the 1.92 mills property tax levied to bankroll our Parks & Recreation Department is paid only by city of Lafayette property owners — although residents across the parish use those facilities — and it was established in the early 1960s when the city had but a handful of parks, one rec center and one golf course. Those facilities have more than tripled over the intervening half century while the funding source has remained unchanged. As a result, nearly half of the department’s budget comes from the city’s general fund.

Did you know there’s a public park within the city limits of Youngsville, Foster Park, that city of Lafayette property owners pay to maintain? That’s crazy, which gets us around to ...

Consolidation

It just ain’t working, not for the city of Lafayette, which is the only municipality in the parish that has council members who don’t live in the city or pay city property taxes yet make decisions on the city’s budget and spending priorities.

The critical error with consolidation is built into its framework: The small towns, which elect their own mayors and councils and have their own budgets, opted out of consolidation when voters parishwide approved it in the early 1990s, yet those residents in Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott and Youngsville still get to vote in City-Parish Council elections, even though Lafayette Consolidated Government technically only comprises the city of Lafayette and the unincorporated parish. If the financial scope of consolidation — Lafayette city and the unincorporated parish — were equal to the voting scope (meaning residents in the smaller towns didn’t vote in CPC elections) the city of Lafayette and its corresponding districts on the council would be about 70 percent, effectively giving Lafayette the same autonomy as the smaller towns. But we let the small towns opt out of consolidation yet still participate in its decision-making process by allowing them to help elect six of the nine seats on the council. It’s not fair by any measure, and coupled with the fact that the city and parish of Lafayette maintain separate accounting books and the parish is perennially cash-starved, the city has long shouldered a disproportionate weight in our overall prosperity. (Refer back to that public park in the city limits of Youngsville that is maintained by city of Lafayette property-tax payers.)

Lafayette, the Hub City within not just the parish but the Acadiana region, is the economic driver for us all. It needs the same self-determination as every other town in the parish. Voters rejected deconsolidation in 2011, but there are ways — through charter amendments and/or redrawing districts — to get this right. Hopefully the City-Parish Council sworn in on Jan. 4, 2016, will roll up its collective sleeves and get to it.


There are lots of races on the Oct. 24 ballot, but the contests for City-Parish Council are arguably the most important for Lafayette Parish.

Seven of the nine districts on the City-Parish Council are up for grabs on Oct. 24. That’s 17 candidates including incumbents jostling for just seven seats — two incumbents, councilmen Kevin Naquin in District 1 and William Theriot in 9, were re-elected by virtue of going unchallenged. Four years ago there were 16 candidates in all nine districts. A refreshing change this year is the eight women vying for office — a break from the past and possibly a remedy to the embarrassing fact that no woman has ever been elected to the City-Parish Council (although two have served as interim councilwomen following resignations).

Clerk of Court Louis Perret tells us he expects better-than-average turnout on election day, mainly because of the races for governor, city-parish president and sheriff. But will voters be patient enough to work their way to those “down ballot” races for City-Parish Council? There are seven statewide offices, two seats on the Board of Secondary & Elementary Education, a dozen legislative races and three parishwide seats — city-parish president, assessor and sheriff — piled high on the ballot above the council races. (Individual voters won’t make selections in all of those races but will still have well over a dozen votes to cast before getting to their council district at the bottom of the ballot.) It’s not atypical that voter participation drops off farther down the ballot. How will that affect incumbents hanging on to seats or upstart challengers booting them from office? A candidate’s ability to energize his or her likely voters will go a long way in determining outcomes.

The race for sheriff is arguably the most important parishwide election this go-round. With the retirement of longtime popular Sheriff Mike Neustrom, who brought innovation and stability to the office, the parish’s largest law enforcement agency is up for grabs. In selecting a sheriff Lafayette voters will decide whether the proven reforms Neustrom introduced to the department will be preserved or possibly abandoned. The race for city-parish president is, of course, important but certainly not a matter of contrasts: Both candidates — Dee Stanley and Joel Robideaux — are south Lafayette Republicans likely to emulate the management style and economic priorities of outgoing City-Parish President Joey Durel.

But it’s on the City-Parish Council where the rubber meets the road. Will we end up with a council weighed down with the influence of the nay-nay Tea Party, or will we elect a council that can tackle the tough issues facing the parish over the next four years without the encumbering weight of ideology?

We spoke with a handful of deeply connected political sources about the council races. Here’s our take:


DISTRICT 2

Candidates:

Jay Castille, Democrat/incumbent
Total fundraising: $23,550
Cash on hand: $18,824

Charlotte Stemmans Clavier, Republican
Total fundraising: $8,145
Cash on hand: $4,211

Conventional wisdom would have Castille, vying for his third and final term on the CPC, as an easy winner. But in Lafayette Parish, which has been trending red for more than a decade, even reliably Democratic north Lafayette Parish and Carencro could be at play.

There remains a general antiincumbent mood among voters frustrated with the dysfunction in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C., and although governance in Lafayette has been functional, if voters conflate state and national politics with local politics, Castille could shed some votes. What could also hurt Castille are the many hats he wears: Carencro city manager, home builder and councilman on the CPC. There are rumblings in the ’Cro that Castille, who as city manager has a lot of stroke in zoning and permitting, is buttering his own bread pretty thickly. But he also has wide ties throughout the business community in growing “Upper” Lafayette, and he’s a retired fireman, which plays well in that neck of the working-class woods. Plus, he’s been by this reporter’s reckoning a competent, independent-minded rep on the council.

Where Clavier is helped the most is her maiden name. Her dad, Don Stemmans, was a popular horseman in a part of the parish once known for its bush tracks, and the Stemmans clan is well-liked in the area. The R behind her name on the ballot will not hurt either.

Like with so much in politics today, look at the money. Castille’s built-in advantage as an incumbent is buttressed by his more than four-to-one advantage in cash.


DISTRICT 3

Candidates:

Ursula Anderson, Republican
Total fundraising: No information available
Cash on hand: No info

Pat Lewis, Democrat
Total fundraising: No info

John Petersen, Democrat
Total fundraising: No info

Brandon Shelvin, Democrat/incumbent
Total fundraising: No info

Interesting race here. Four candidates including the incumbent practically ensures a runoff. But who’s in it? Most likely Shelvin, who’s vying for a third term and has the still-formidable (although eroding in support) United Ballot ballot behind him. (Former Councilman Chris Williams’ United Ballot charges candidates for its endorsement, transports voters to the polls and is well connected in the majority black district; those endorsements are irrespective of politics; on more than one occasion, United Ballot endorsed U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a white, anti-Obama Republican.)

Where the race gets interesting is in who makes the runoff. Petersen is the only white candidate, and if the district’s 30 percent white vote turns out heavily it could boost him into the second round. Anderson is almost certainly an also-ran; she’s a Republican with Tea Party connections in a district where Democrats reign, although she is likely to pick up some votes among the churches in the district. That leaves Lewis, a black businessman with a reliable D behind his name, battling Petersen to make the runoff. Either way, this is Shelvin’s race to lose, although he’s well-positioned to prevail.


DISTRICT 5

Candidates:

Jared Bellard, Republican/incumbent
Total contributions: $23,929
Cash on hand: $31,483 (had about $15K at beginning of the reporting period)

Dr. Monique Koll, no party
Total fundraising: $5,420
Cash on hand: $3,668

It’s unclear why Jared Bellard ever ran for council; he’s been one of the most detached, disinterested council members in the history of consolidation. Like his fellow Tea Party members Andy Naquin in District 6 and William Theriot in 9, who, regrettably, skates back into a third term with no opposition, Bellard’s two terms on the council have been defined not by what he’s for — no idea, seriously — but by what he’s against: comprehensive planning, the Unified Development Code, public investment in the arts and culture, anything progressive, really. He’s made it clear to fellow councilmen, according to multiple sources, that he’ll attend Tuesday council meetings but not much else. Neither Bellard nor Naquin participated in a single candidate forum in the lead-up to Oct. 24. Not one. Nor did either respond to the questionnaire The Independent sent to each candidate in mid-September for this report.

But Bellard has more than $30,000 in the bank for the final weeks of the campaign — a war chest aided by the fact that he began 2015 with roughly $15,000 already on hand. That will be hard for his challenger, veterinarian Dr. Monique Koll, to surmount.

Koll’s personal story — an inspiring, made-for-TV recovery after being struck and critically injured by an unlicensed driver while cycling, which left her with partial paralysis — will no doubt play well with voters, and she is by every account in the race out of a genuine sense of public service. But her physical limitations have also hampered her ability to effectively canvas a sprawling, mostly rural district. A campaign appearance in late September by Mike Strain, a fellow veterinarian and longtime friend of Koll’s who is also the statewide-elected commissioner of agriculture, will help Koll. But Bellard’s financial advantage will probably be the prevailing factor in this contest.


DISTRICT 6

Candidates:

Alicia Chaisson, no party
Total fundraising: No info

Bruce Conque, no party
Total fundraising: $12,275
Cash on hand: $5,755

Andy Naquin, Republican/incumbent
Total fundraising: $22,935
Cash on hand: $19,935

Sevie Zeller, Republican
Total fundraising: No info

The other crowded, four-candidate field in the C-PC elections is in District 6, located in the heart of the city of Lafayette. In fact, it’s the only council district wholly within the city limits — no unincorporated Lafayette Parish or small town constituents. And it’s a sprawling, multidemographic district that encompasses old, established neighborhoods in the heart of the city (the Saint Streets, for example) and the single-family nearsuburbia of Broadmoor on the Southside.

The incumbent, Andy Naquin, is, as mentioned above, defined by what he’s against, not by what he’s for. And as the only council member who represents only city constituents, he’s been amazingly tone deaf about city-centric issues, namely the city of Lafayette’s lack of autonomy built into the Home Rule Charter. Like Bellard, he’s generally unresponsive to constituents and seems to have a distaste for elected office. But he’s the incumbent and, like Bellard, has a distinct financial advantage entering the final weeks leading to Oct. 24.

With four candidates in the race this will almost certainly lead to a runoff, with former Councilman Bruce Conque the most likely among the four to still be standing after Oct. 24. Conque is a tireless, methodical campaigner who, by election day, will have walked or cycled every neighborhood in the district and knocked on virtually every door. He has the name recognition from a previous stint on the council, and by virtue of the many commissions and boards he’s served on over the years. He understands the issues and the machinery of consolidated government better than any candidate in any district, and Conque’s enthusiasm for door-todoor campaigning makes him less reliant, unlike Naquin, on his bank account.

This is a hard race to call. The other candidates, Republican Sevie Zeller, the editor of an evangelical magazine, and theater artist Alicia Chaisson (no party affiliation), are in the race for the right reasons — a genuine desire for public service, based on their speeches at the Sept. 26 Stump Speech at The Horse Farm. Information on their fundraising was not available at the Board of Ethics website by press time, so it’s unclear what the financial health of their campaigns is, and they could end up cancelling each other out with the female vote. Zeller’s grandfather is a 40-year educator in the district and former principal at Lafayette High, which will no doubt help. Coupled with Naquin’s disengagement with constituents over the last four years, don’t be surprised if it’s Conque and Zeller in a runoff, though the Vegas money has to be on Naquin getting in thanks to his finances.


DISTRICT 7

Candidates:

Nanette Cook, Republican
Total fundraising: $63,247
Cash on hand: $41,639

Bobby Richard, Republican
Total fundraising: $56,438
Cash on hand: $15,171

District 7, which comprises the southeast part of the city of Lafayette, unincorporated parish and most of the city of Broussard, isn’t the most affluent in the parish — that would go to District 8, which includes River Ranch — but District 7 has money to burn, evidenced by how much was generated in campaign donations among the two candidates running to replace Don Bertrand, who chose not to seek a third term.

Nanette Cook, who teaches at Cathedral Carmel Elementary, is wellconnected in south Lafayette social circles and is the daughter of popular former City Councilman Al Simon, raised more than $63,000 while preacher Bobby Richard took in $56,000. Cook speaks in sunny generalizations, although she seems genuinely interested in public service and showed a worthy command of many issues in her responses to The Independent’s questionnaire, while Richard is a two-trick pony: no new taxes, and roads and no new taxes and roads.

Cook has the fi nancial advantage in the home stretch — with only two candidates in the race there will be no runoff; it’s over at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 — with well more than twice as much to spend as Richard: a $41,000 to $15,000 advantage.

Sources tell us Bertrand, who served the district well but chose not to seek re-election because he plans to live with his new wife outside the district (a disqualifier), will likely stay out of the race because he prefers neither candidate.

Cook is the more likely, if elected, to listen, learn about the issues and vote her conscience; Richard brims over with evangelical zeal and is a dynamic public speaker, but both his Bible beating and Tea Party affi nities could be a major turnoff for a lot of voters.


DISTRICT 8

Candidates:

Liz Webb Hebert, Republican
Total contributions: $32,225
Cash on hand: $20,554

Gerald Judice, Republican
Total contributions: $45,175
Cash on hand: $28,905

Carol Ross, Republican
Total contributions: $30,850 (loaned campaign $1,572)
Cash on hand: $24,621

This is anyone’s race to win — two-term incumbent Keith Patin chose not to seek re-election — and a runoff is almost certain.

Liz Webb Hebert is a tabula rasa, never having run for public office but clearly cramming on the issues since announcing. (Hebert even says she will quit her job as convention center sales manager for the Cajundome if elected to avoid any conflict of interest because the council approves supplemental funding for the ’Dome.)

A victory by any one of the three would be of little surprise, as each will carry a base to the polls: Hebert is well-connected via her membership in the705, a young professionals civic group; Ross is a media/marketing professional, a darling of the south Lafayette Tea Party and has enjoyed a platform as a talk-radio host on KPEL; Judice owns the legendary Judice Inn hamburger shop — still no fries, Gerald, really? — and is respected as a businessman.

Really this is a matter of degrees: All three are Republicans, but Hebert comes across as the most moderate, with Judice and Ross further to the right.

Although Ross disavows a connection to the local Tea Party, whenever that group appears before the council — almost always in opposition to anything from comprehensive planning to smart meters to the Unified Development Code — Ross is often a reliable partisan. But she is also attuned to the issue of the city of Lafayette’s lack of autonomy and supports LUS, our city-owned utility, as do the other candidates. Ross — and her husband, former state representative and mayoral candidate Ron Gomez — is a polarizing figure. In fact, according to multiple sources, Judice was urged to enter the race (primarily by City-Parish President candidate Joel Robideaux) at the very least to throw an obstacle in Ross’ path.

Each has a considerable war chest to spend leading up to Oct. 24. But who makes that runoff is anyone’s guess. We have our money on Judice and Hebert.


SOUNDING OFF

In mid-September, each of the candidates for City-Parish Council was sent a questionnaire for this story. By press time, nine of the 17 candidates had answered the questions. Read their responses online by clicking here.


IMPORTANT DATES

Oct. 10-17

Early voting for Oct. 24 election

Oct. 20

Deadline for registrar to receive mail ballot for Oct. 24 election

Oct. 24

Primary election

Nov. 7-14

Early voting for Nov. 21 runoff election

Nov. 20

Deadline for registrar to receive mail ballot for Nov. 21 election

Nov. 21

Runoff election


Download the ballot here