Voter group questions council action

The local chapter of the League of Women Voters takes aim at a recent council override of a vote by the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority.

The League of Women Voters of Lafayette issued a statement to local media that a representative will read at Tuesday’s City-Parish Council meeting questioning the authority of the full council in voting on matters before the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority, which comprises the five council members whose districts are at least 60 percent within the city limits. According to Lafayette’s Home Rule Charter, the LPUA is the governing authority of Lafayette Utilities System, the city-owned public utility, and LUS Fiber.

Two weeks ago the full council voted to override an LPUA vote; it was the first time in the 20-year history of consolidated government that this happened and caused at least one council member and a candidate in this fall’s council election to call for fixing the charter to address this and other issues. Read more about that in Managing Editor Walter Pierce’s editorial, “Lafayette is Doomed.”

Here’s the LWV statement:

Those standing are some other members of our Leadership Team of the League of Women Voters of Lafayette. We are acting on the basis of our 2011 study of our local government entities. The study is the backdrop our taking a position on this issue.

We are here to ask that the Council recognize the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority, the LPUA, is “the governing authority for LUS.” That is a direct quote in the Home Rule Charter. We object to any vote of the Council on any LPUA matter at this present time, other than bond resolutions where bond rating is affected.

The charter also says the LPUA “shall fix rates, incur indebtedness, approve the utility budget, and approve proposals for the improvement and extension of the utilities.”

The LPUA is not one of the departments of Lafayette Consolidated Government. It is not a commission appointed by the Council. Its members are elected by the public. The charter gives the LPUA, not the Council, the approval to appoint the director of LUS.

The charter states the Council is the body of appeal for the Planning and Zoning Commission. But in contrast, the charter states the body of appeal for setting rates by the LPUA, is “the appropriate courts.” It is not the Council to whom the public is to appeal the rates set by the LPUA.

However, in the years since our charter went into effect, the Councils have eroded the LPUA’s authority, gradually through practice and, for a while, even jointly scheduled meetings, The Council has inappropriately taken votes on the managerial and financial decisions of the LPUA.

The reason given is that the City-Parish attorneys have indicated language in the charter is “murky” or “ambiguous.” That reason is not an adequate basis for running any governmental authority—whether the LPUA or the Council.

At the last Council meeting on January 6, the Council went as far as voting a direct override of the authority of the LPUA. The Council overruled within a few hours, on the same day, the vote the LPUA had just taken. The particular agenda item on January 6 was recovering LUS’ capital costs from developers for extending utilities. The Council’s veto is a matter that may affect the rates set by the LPUA. Again, the Charter says the appropriate courts are the body of appeal for rates.

As of January 6 there appears to be a direct conflict in governance. The majority rule of the LPUA was violated by a majority rule of the Council. As members of the public, we are not attorneys, nor are the council members, nor are most of their constituents. The City-Parish attorneys may or may not be representing the interests of the LPUA as an entity of the City of Lafayette. Much is unclear to the public and to the Council.

The League understands as a practical matter — but not as a principle of governance — that it is important to make sure the community receives the best possible bond rating for the lowest possible interest rates for both the residents of the city represented by the LPUA and the parish as a whole. We therefore hope that the Council will continue to endorse LUS bond issues and that the LPUA will continue to allow its separate resources to support the parish in this way.

The principles of the League of Women Voters of Lafayette are coordination among the different levels and agencies of government, clear assignment of responsibility, and well-defined channels for citizen’s input and review. We view this current situation as non-productive and inefficient, to say the least.

Therefore, we ask that for the present, the Council as a body take any steps needed to remove itself as a voting body from the decisions of the LPUA, other than bond resolutions where bond rating is affected. Thank you.