[Editor's Note: Responses from Charlotte Clavier (District 2) and Monique Koll (5) were added to this Q&A on Tuesday, Oct. 6.]
In mid-September, The Independent sent a questionnaire to candidates seeking seats on the City-Parish Council — incumbents and challengers, 17 candidates total. Thirteen questions were asked of the candidates, ranging from general queries about big issues facing the parish to specific questions on topics such as tax increment financing districts and Downtown zoning.
We’ve gotten responses back from about half of them, and as we get more responses we’ll continue to compile them and alert readers when new responses have come in. We will group candidates by district to promote ready comparisons of candidates’ position by the voters who will elect them (and alphabetically within districts). We’ve only lightly edited for clarity the candidates’ responses; some use bullet points while others stick to prose, some are lengthy as others are brief, etc., but otherwise the responses are as we received them. Because many of the responses are lengthy, we’re running the questionnaire in installments through next week, beginning today with the most pressing issues facing the parish and what, if elected, the candidates will do about them.
What, in your opinion, are the most pressing issues facing Lafayette — the city and parish, separately and collectively — over the next four years?**
JAY CASTILLE (INCUMBENT, DISTRICT 2):
**There are a number of pressing issues facing the City of Lafayette and the unincorporated parts of our parish, where to begin. For the City of Lafayette traffic is a pressing issue and in the unincorporated areas roads, bridges and drainage are pressing issues. Another very pressing issue to the unincorporated areas is fire protection. There are many more such as recreation, better fire and police protection and tweaking the charter in which LCG operates under. There are many more that need addressing but these seem to be the most pressing.
CHARLOTTE CLAVIER (DISTRICT 2):
Each area of the parish has unique issues. In North Lafayette Parish the issues are DRAINAGE and ROADS. Throughout the parish there are other issues – Crime, Education, Traffic – each elected Councilman and the City Parish President along with other elected official need to work with community groups, faith based groups and concerned citizens to find workable solutions for issues we all know exist.
PAT LEWIS (DISTRICT 3):
Crime is one of the most important issues that need to be addressed both in the city and the parish. I believe that safe streets are essential in having a livable and thriving city. I want to be proactive in working with law enforcement in developing and implementing sustainable public safety programs. Our city has become too crime infested and someone has got to take a stand against this violent culture that has overtaken Lafayette Parish.
Another important issue facing the city of Lafayette is the unbalanced and disproportional economic disparity because Upper and Lower Lafayette. Upper Lafayette is the Gateway to Acadiana and as the Gateway we need to promote beautification and economic development. This will provide a harmonious social environment for residents, tourists and passer byers. By increasing the quality of life, the residents of Lafayette Parish will be provided with hope, relief and most importantly restoration in pride of their city.
Lastly, by continuing to focus on downtown Lafayette and revitalizing our core, what we are investing in is the revitalization of our community. When this occurs, the people Lafayette as a whole’s quality of life and quality of place will rise better and brighter than ever.
JOHN PETERSEN (DISTRICT 3):
Collectively, our ability over the next four years to lay the groundwork for smart growth is the most critical issue. This means focusing on projects most likely to create a return on public investment and having the discipline to stick to that approach. For the parish as a whole, maintenance of existing infrastructure is in dire need of triage. For the city specifically, finding an equitable arrangement for city-specific decision-making is pressing, along with improving our gateway corridors and targeted solutions to our traffic problem.
MONIQUE KOLL (DISTRICT 5):
Traffic and drainage, and population growth.
ALICIA CHAISSON (DISTRICT 6):
-Buses, sidewalks, and bike lanes – accessibility is essential. A reliable and far-reaching public transit bus system would work toward a solution to several problems plaguing the city – traffic, ADA compliance, wealth disparity, and drunk driving. It is too difficult to get around the city, much less the parish, if you do not own a car or have a disability. It is easy to help the wealthy and connected, but part of the task of local government is to assist those most at-risk.
-Traffic and infrastructure. As the Hub City, traffic is a far-reaching problem that negatively affects the perception of Lafayette, business bottom lines, and citizens’ time, pocketbooks, and moods.
-The public school system, particularly facilities. Lafayette has agreed to pay a tax to support the upgrade of the airport to attract business. If Lafayette were to agree to the same investment in our public schools, we would be supporting sustainable growth; encouraging families to settle here rather then set up shop and then move on because of a discouraging public school environment and the high cost of private school. People perform better when in a clean, modern, environment. It instills a sense of pride and that the work they do is valued. Students and teachers are no different. It’s difficult to excel in an over-crowded classroom with peeling paint or inadequate ventilation. Facilities improvements are long overdue.
-Downtown development and the I-49 corridor. The city must reconcile its need for connectivity, modernization, and growth with the issues of displacement, gentrification, and further division of North and South Lafayette.
-Support of the arts. Arts and culture equal economic development and investment in community.
BRUCE CONQUE (DISTRICT 6):
Lafayette Parish Challenges
• 67k plus underserved citizens in unincorporated parish
• fire protection inadequate
• roads, bridges and drainage require urgent attention
• the future of the parish courthouse complex must be resolved. We need a plan, a location and a funding proposal; all of which should be a priority for the next council.
These challenges have been clearly identified by the LCG Future Needs / Funding Sources Committee - a group of private citizens who have been researching the issues for over a year and from whom a report is expected later this year.
What they have found is that
• parish revenue streams are decreasing
• parish general fund is depleted and
• parish property taxes are inadequate to meet the needs
City of Lafayette Opportunities
PlanLafayette offers a clear vision and a framework for achievement
• revitalization of the urban core. I grew up next to downtown. It was a mixed use neighborhood then and it could be again
• address the blight that is the old federal courthouse … economic development opportunity waiting to be nurtured
• prioritization of an infrastructure program to better move traffic; recognize that any plan must be pedestrian and bicycle friendly as well … a complete streets approach.
• need to improve gateway corridors from I-10 and the Lafayette Regional Airport We do not give a good first impression to those who enter our community by either Ambassador Caffery, University or the Evangeline Thruway.
SEVIE ZELLER (DISTRICT 6):
Some of the most pressing issues facing Lafayette in the next four years include infrastructure repairs, economic development/diversification, the charter and utilities.
NANETTE COOK (DISTRICT 7): We have several pressing issues facing our city and our parish.
- the need to work more closely on our shared priorities. We can’t unite the Acadiana region if we can’t unite our parish.
-traffic and roads need to be our top priority and receive dedicated funding ahead of lower priorities.
We have to fund necessities before we fund luxuries. We also have to work more closely with our legislative delegation on speaking with one voice in Baton Rouge. That’s the best way to ensure that our highest infrastructure priorities are taken seriously. Otherwise, funds go to other parts of the state. This is particularly important because most of our road and drainage funding over the last 12 years has come from the state and federal governments, rather than local funding.
LIZ WEBB HEBERT (DISTRICT 8):
Planning. We need to start planning ahead together as a community. Planning for Traffic and Infrastructure, planning for a more beautiful and safe community, planning for a more walkable and bike able community. We need to start being proactive rather than reactive with our budget and resources.
GERALD JUDICE (DISTRICT 8):
There are several pressing issues that are facing both the city and the parish in the coming years and most of these issues apply to both the city and parish. Traffic, roads and bridges, our gateway areas, I-49, infrastructure issues, etc… But one item that I think will need to be addressed is how the City of Lafayette is fairly represented when it comes to issues that are unique to residents of the city of Lafayette. Each city in the parish has it’s own Mayor and Council, but Lafayette has councilmen making decisions for the city that are elected by districts whose voters are primarily outside the city of Lafayette. This will need to be addressed and I believe that if we work together as a council we can come up with a solution that will be fair and appealing to all concerned.
CAROL ROSS (DISTRICT 8):
It’s not rocket science -- we know we’ll have to devote serious attention to the infrastructure -- streets, roads, drainage. But we also have a fundamental, structural problem with our Home Rule Charter, and rather than use up weeks, months and hours & hours reconstituting a new charter commission to craft changes that will meet voter approval, I would rather see the new council and administration come together, work on some amendments to solve the imbalances inherent in the document, and then send them to the citizens for a vote - in a much shorter timeframe.
How will you as an elected public official seek to address those issues?
The traffic issue is being addressed by adding the Southcity Parkway and the bridge crossing the vermillion river. Also Ambassador North is another area being addressed. These take time to develop but will help relieve a tremendous amount of traffic when completed. But in the meantime we need to look at more connector streets which will take traffic off of the main streets such as Johnston St., Ambassador Caffery and Pinhook. Camellia Blvd. is a good example of connector streets. In the unincorporated areas the bridges are a pressing because when LCG has start closing these for safety reasons this will affect everyone including City of Lafayette residents. These bridges are used by everyone to go and come from work, go to the grocery store and more importantly the life safety issue that the fire departments, police department and ambulances have to travel to get to your home. The next time you are on your way to work or to visit your family members count the bridges you cross and how many times you cross them, you will be very surprised. Drainage issues need addressing because of the flooding that occurs on a regular basis. We need to figure a way to remove the water quick and effectively from our neighborhoods.
**No single member of the Council can get any of these issues fixed alone. I will focus my energy on getting the funding necessary to make corrections to our Drainage systems and work on the backlog of Roads in desperate shape.
LEWIS (3): I will immediately seek to address these issues. I think it’s important to work with my fellow councilmembers, our next City Parish President and most importantly the residents of Lafayette Parish. Now is the time to put the service back in public servant and address all of the issues that are affecting our community.
PERTERSEN (3): Government must always be people-focused, and it’s time to also be data-driven. I’ll be a voice for smart, analytical decision-making about which projects we take on. We only get one chance to get many of these issues right, and with a strong guiding document in PlanLafayette, I’ll help to ensure we grow purposefully into the vibrant, strong community we all envision. In the long-term, this will help mitigate maintenance funding issues around the parish, but I’m open to considering special funding districts where a specific urgent need is identified. I’ll also be a thoughtful, consensus-minded partner in the process of addressing any issues surrounding consolidation.
KOLL (5): I will stay in close touch with my constituents, and help them solve their individual and collective problems by working with the proper people and departments for each issue.
CHAISSON (6): I will push for increase funding and the necessary studies of non-car transportation. I will work alongside the Committee for Disabilities Awareness to insist that Lafayette work to legally comply with ADA standards. I will seek out grant opportunities and community partnerships to augment the budget for these crucial upgrades.
-LCG needs money to tackle the immense problem of traffic and infrastructure. The council should explore opportunities from the sale of adjudicated property combined with modest temporary tax increase, which would reflect the citizens’ prioritization of road improvements.
-I will work with the school board to promote transparency, evidence-based practices, and increase community trust. The new superintendent has an opportunity to reframe the citizens’ perception of the school board. No one will vote for a tax they don’t think will be spent appropriately.
-I will seek out and listen to the concerns of those directly affected by the plans for the elevated interstate downtown, compare those concerns to the currently proposed plans, and educate the constituents about the pros and cons of each approach. Ultimately, the citizens must decide what sacrifices are reasonable to ensure that Lafayette addresses its growth and economic potential.
-I will publicize and encourage community attendance of local art offerings. Theater performances, live music, dance performances, visual art exhibitions, and literary events abound in Lafayette, but are often under-attended. Increased awareness and attendance will improve overall quality of the arts while boosting the local economy. I will advocate for improved LCG funding of the arts, considering it an investment in community building and economic growth.
CONQUE (6): Engage the community in much the same manner as we have with LCG Future Needs / Fund Sources Committee. Empower the public to research the issues and propose solutions. It is, after all is said and done, the citizens which will decide in a public vote how we may address our revenue challenges.
ZELLER (6): We are already bringing some of the greatest minds in the nation to the table so that as a community we have a complete understanding of what our options are. I will encourage public input and take a firm stance on unitizing our existing resources more efficiently.
COOK (7): I will work with stakeholders across Lafayette Parish on the need for a more united parish and our core priorities. I will work with our legislative delegation, the new City-Parish Administration and Council, elected officials across the parish, business and civic leaders. We all have to develop a broad consensus on where we’re headed and move forward together.
HEBERT (8): Now is the time for us to come together as a council and make the Plan Lafayette blueprint the road map for any decisions we make as a council. Before we make decisions we must ask ourselves “Does this action item support the Plan and align with our vision for the future?”
JUDICE (8): Work with the other eight councilmen and women and the administration to come up with a plan that gives the residents of the City of Lafayette proper representation and a voice on issues that are unique to the city.
ROSS (8): In terms of infrastructure, it will be important to have a clear understanding of the budgetary issues first -- e.g. are we getting the most bang for the dollars being expended? Do we have (as we used to) a schedule of road overlays based on need, not political considerations? Are we exploring all options, including funding sources not usually considered such as I have proposed with the unclaimed properties fund administered by Treasurer Kennedy as fast track funding for Hwy. 7333 - E. Broussard Road? Are we fulfilling the promises made in the past, e.g. the South College bridge, so that voters will trust that promises made today will be fulfilled in the future?