March 16, 2010 11:47

Some day in the not-too-distant future, votes by the Lafayette City-Parish Council on matters pertaining to Lafayette Utilities System and other city-only issues could be weighted based on representation.

Some day in the not-too-distant future, votes by the Lafayette City-Parish Council on matters pertaining to Lafayette Utilities System and other city-only issues could be weighted based on representation; that is, council members with more LUS customers or city residents would have more say - their vote would be heavier - than council members representing fewer of those constituencies.

CPC Chair Jay Castille, who awaits a draft ordinance from LCG's legal department that would clear the way toward creating an official charter commission, is looking toward a weighted vote as a means of solving some of the issues in the existing City-Parish Home Rule Charter - chief among them the mechanism by which issues concerning LUS, a city-owned public utility, are decided.

The charter grants governance of LUS to the Lafayette Public Utility Authority, which comprises council members whose districts are at least 60 percent city and therefore 60 percent LUS customers. The LPUA currently stands at five council members. But some LUS customers live outside those five districts, and if the LPUA were the sole decision maker, they would have no voice as LUS stakeholders. Consequently, the full nine-member council also votes on LUS matters, and so far the two bodies - the LPUA and the full council - have not disagreed on an LUS vote, although the potential for that occurring exists. The current situation also means that non-LUS customers have been getting equal say as LUS customers on issues concerning the public utility. This is one of the primary reasons Castille appointed a charter committee in January - to solve the LPUA/full council conundrum. A weighted vote, he believes, address it. "We discussed it," Castille acknowledges, "and that's some of the discussion that I hope takes place during these next few months with the charter commission, if we can get one appointed."

A weighted voting system would also mean the LPUA could be abolished. Under such a system, the vote of Councilman Sam Doré would carry the most weight - 19 percent - because he represents 19 percent of all LUS customers. Doré is followed by Keith Patin (18 percent), Don Bertrand (16), Kenneth Boudreaux (15), Brandon Shelvin (13), Castille (7), Jared Bellard (5), William Theriot (4) and Purvis Morrison (3). Not coincidentally, the five councilmen with the heaviest votes comprise the LPUA.

The Feb. 2 vote approving an LUS rate increase passed the full council by a 5-4 vote: Dore, Patin, Bertrand, Castille and Morrison in favor; Boudreaux, Shelvin, Bellard and Theriot opposed. If that vote were weighted, the rate increase would have passed by a 63-37 percent margin. Castille believes such a system adequately addresses the LPUA problem. "We just need to figure out how to approach that and make it work easy for staff, the council staff, and make sure that everything's in order," Castille adds. "I believe it can be worked out."

An electronic voting system is the likely remedy for making a weighted vote efficient. The Lafayette Parish School Board uses electronic voting. However, the home rule charter does not allow electronic voting. Both a weighted vote and an electronic voting system are subjects Castille hopes a charter commission will address. In fact, the council chairman is already doing his homework on electronic voting: "I met ... with IT and we discussed that also - to do the electronic voting."

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