JoDu takes a victory lap

by Walter Pierce

At times emotional in reminiscing on his three terms in office, City-Parish President Joey Durel delivers his final State of the Parish address to a packed and grateful Cajundome Convention Center.

Photo by Robin May

Joey Durel’s voice cracked a little as he thanked the many executive staff members and department heads during his final State of the Parish Address Wednesday in the Cajundome Convention Center. But it was his acknowledgement of longtime right-hand man Dee Stanley, Lafayette Consolidated Government’s chief administrative officer who has been with Durel since day one in office and whose experience and deep governmental knowledge as a former Lafayette City Council clerk allowed Durel to hit the ground running, that proved the rawest moment of the roughly 15-minute speech.

“This is an election year, and I can’t help that. But, it’s also my last State of the Parish, so I cannot let that stop me from thanking the highest appointed official in this government. Dee, you have an amazing work ethic,” Durel said, referring to Stanley as the “Energizer bunny rabbit."

“I know of no one who returns phone calls the way you do. No one, and I mean no one gets the difficult things done like you. You are clearly the ‘go-to’ guy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have meant to this administration, and to Lafayette.”

Durel acknowledged that Stanley, who mouthed “I love you, man” to his boss from his convention center table, was “the elephant in the room.” Stanley is running to replace term-limited Durel in the fall election. But he’s running against another popular south Lafayette Republican, state Rep. Joel Robideaux, which puts Durel in an awkward position in both political and social circles.

But it sure sounded like an endorsement to us.

Durel said after the event, however, that it wasn’t exactly: “I was simply thanking a person who has meant so much to our administration,” Durel said. When pressed if he really planned to stay on the sideline for the campaign, as he vowed several months ago, Durel was coy: “I’m just enjoying my new grand baby,” he said, referring to the birth — during the State of the Parish Address no less — of the newest addition to the Durel clan, Hayes Joseph Durel, born to the politician's son and daughter-in-law.

Among the few future initiatives he mentioned for the remainder of his term, Durel noted a plan to offer LUS Fiber service to the smaller municipalities in the parish, beginning with businesses and expanding to residential customers. But Durel said offering LUS Fiber outside the Lafayette city limits would come with a condition: Any municipality agreeing to the deal would also have to agree to a parish annexation plan Durel has long pushed — one known in some City Hall circles as “Joey-ville” in which every town in the parish agrees to annexation boundaries to prevent the type of squabbling and legal fusillades thrown between Lafayette and Broussard a few years ago.

From left: IND political columnist Pearson Cross, Durel and IND Managing Editor Walter Pierce

In a follow-up Q&A with IND political columnist Pearson Cross and this writer, Durel recalled a meeting he held with parish mayors in the early days of his first term: “I sensed there was a tension in the room,” he recalled, “and realized it was all about annexation.”

Durel also noted that Lafayette’s Project Front Yard beautification and litter-abatement initiative will be offered to other Acadiana communities; New Iberia has agreed to participate, and Mayor Hilda Curry and other city officials were present at the address and acknowledged by Durel. “What could be an easier regional effort than cleaning up Acadiana together?” Durel asked rhetorically. “We want every city and parish in Acadiana to know that all that we have is available to them. Working together, we can make this a cultural change initiative.”

This last SOTP was, in the final analysis, a victory lap for Durel as he rattled off his administration’s accomplishments over the last 11-plus years. And in consideration of the bounds that Lafayette Parish and its Hub City have taken during Durel’s tenure, a much-deserved victory lap.

“I did everything that I did,” Durel said in conclusion, “because I also love you, the people of Lafayette Parish and Acadiana.”

The audience returned the affection with a standing ovation.