Lafayette voters to decide charter amendments Saturday

The changes are minor but could have a meaningful impact on future parish issues.

In addition to being asked to renew a school system millage and races for elected office that include runoffs for sheriff and two council seats, Lafayette Parish voters on Saturday will decide whether to make two changes to the Home Rule Charter, which serves as the constitution for the parish.

One of the amendments would increase the membership on the Planning & Zoning Commission. Currently five volunteer members sit on the commission — three residents of the city of Lafayette and two who live in the unincorporated parish. The amendment would enlarge the commission to seven members with four from the city and three from the unincorporated parish.

The other amendment would change the name of the chief elected official in the parish from city-parish president to mayor-president.

Neither is an earth-shaking change to the charter, and that’s by design: multiple sources have told this newspaper those relatively minor tweaks to the charter are merely to establish a precedent for amending the charter without having to go through a charter commission. There’s currently some disagreement among legal minds in the parish whether amending the charter requires a charter commission; going to directly to voters, regardless of the outcome, establishes a precedent.

In the future, proponents of the direct-to-voters process believe, more substantive changes to the charter — redrawing district boundaries, for instance, to protect the city of Lafayette’s majority on the council — could be placed before voters without the use of a charter commission, which can be a messy, cumbersome process.

The League of Women Voters of Lafayette released a handy pro-con guide to the amendments:

Three points in favor of increasing the size of the Planning & Zoning Commission are:

(1) The Planning & Zoning Commission has had difficulties in getting a quorum for its meetings, according to City-Parish President Joey Durel as reported in the media.

(2) The increase “reflects the added workload on the commission and city-parish officials coping to bring into law a comprehensive master plan for future development,” as reported by the media.

(3) A larger number of Commissioners could represent more neighborhoods.

Three points in opposition to an increase in the size of the Planning & Zoning Commission are:

(1) If there have been sufficient absences preventing a quorum for the Commission’s meetings, the City-Parish Council can discharge any member who fails to attend meetings on a regular basis.

(2) During peak cycles of parish growth and development, successive Commissioners kept pace with the decisions required, secured public engagement in a long-term planning process and adopted two comprehensive plans. It is up to the City-Parish Council to continue to appoint highly qualified, committed Commissioners. The Planning & Zoning Department’s Director and staff, other departments of Lafayette Consolidated Government and other agencies within the community facilitate the Commission’s work.

(3) This 1-1 increase in number of Commissioners further imbalances voter representation between the City of Lafayette voters and the voters in the unincorporated areas. In 2012 the population of the City of Lafayette was 54% of the total parish population, while the population of the unincorporated areas, including unincorporated Milton and Ossun, is just over 30% of the total parish population.

Three points in favor of changing the title from City-Parish President to City-Parish Mayor-President are:

(1) The City of Lafayette has no mayor to represent it.

(2) The outgoing City-Parish President of three terms has presented himself as the City of Lafayette’s mayor and is often seen as and called “Mayor” by many residents.

(3) The name change would give a legal name to the official representative for the City of Lafayette.

Three points in opposition to changing the title are:

(1) The City-Parish President, as the chief executive officer of both the City of Lafayette and of the unincorporated areas, is required to live and vote “within the parish.” The first Parish President lived and voted outside the City of Lafayette.

(2) The mayors of the other municipalities are elected by their city’s voters, while the City-Parish President is elected by others besides the voters of the City of Lafayette.

(3) The roles of City-Parish President and Mayor of Lafayette may be conflicting in matters pertaining to the general good of either the City of Lafayette or the unincorporated areas.