As the calendar year winds down each year, one question begins to dominate The Independent Weekly's editorial meetings: Which individual or individuals have made the biggest impact in the last 12 months in Acadiana? In 2004, that person was Lafayette Utilities System's Terry Huval for his vision and work on the fiber-to-the-home project; Acadiana volunteers earned the nod in 2005 for their response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and last year we chose Danica Adams and Elizabeth Brooks for their tireless efforts on the grassroots Save the Horse Farm campaign.
In 2007, despite a lengthy list of worthy candidates, we felt they were all overshadowed by an unexpected event: UL Lafayette Ray Authement's retirement announcement. For that reason, we've chosen Authement as The Independent Weekly's Newsmaker of the Year. It's impossible to overestimate the ripple effect of Authement stepping down at UL. He has been the leader and public face of the university since 1974. For more than three decades, he's built a formidable legacy that's covered in Independent Staff Writer Nathan Stubbs' cover-story profile of Authement in this week's issue.
It's no secret that we've been Authement's biggest critic in the last two years. We were dismayed at the secrecy and short-sighted vision he showed in the failed UL horse farm land-swap deal — so much so that we successfully sued him for his refusal to turn over public records. Authement has also been frequently lampooned by our Snake Oil cartoonist, Greg Peters. And since Authement announced his retirement, we've also questioned the process used in the search for his successor. We believe, as many community leaders and UL faculty members did, that Authement's retirement was sparked primarily by his desire — and Gov. Kathleen Blanco's — to influence the choice of his successor before Blanco left office. There was widespread speculation that he had no intention of leaving any time soon, though there was an equal amount of sentiment that he already stayed too long.
Still, even if the last two years have been the most controversial of his tenure, his influence on the university — and by extension, Acadiana — has been enormously positive for the bulk of his tenure. As 2007 winds to a close and Authement prepares to step down in spring 2008, there's no better time to look at his legacy. I only wish that Authement himself would have agreed to discuss his historic presidency with The Independent; he refused multiple requests for an interview.
It's tempting to believe that Authement will be gently riding off into the sunset in the coming final months of his tenure as incoming President E. Joseph "T-Joe" Savoie prepares to take the reins at UL. But if Authement's legendary work ethic and drive to push the university forward hold to form, he's working on a grand finale that will enable him to go out in a blaze of glory — and rehabilitate a bit of the hit his reputation has taken in recent years.
In recent weeks, the city council rezoned a portion of local attorney Jimmy Davidson's Girard Park property from residential to commercial, despite the fact that Davidson was unwilling to submit a detailed plan for development of the property. Davidson's acreage was included in the failed horse farm land-swap deal and was said to be worth $3.25 million; it was ultimately shown to be worth only $1.5 million because of its residential classification. The rezoning, however, has increased the value and may pave the way for some form of the swap to be put back into play.
In today's era of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately and instant gratification, Authement is well aware that his name is now synonymous with the battle over the horse farm. Between now and mid-2008, he has a chance to make a once-in-a-lifetime decision that could immensely benefit both Acadiana and UL Lafayette: he can help orchestrate giving the horse farm to the city for use as a central green space, and he can secure more land for his much talked-about campus expansion. As we approach the height of the holiday season, there is perhaps no greater gift he could leave for all of Lafayette.