Walter Pierce

NG-go! Council votes in favor of non-profit funding

by Walter Pierce

As anticipated, the Lafayette Consolidated Council voted 6-3 against an ordinance that would shift funding of non-governmental organizations like 232-HELP and Festivals Acadiens to the Community Foundation of Acadiana and phase out that funding over a three-year period. Ordinance sponsors William Theriot (District 9) and Jared Bellard (District 5) were joined by District 8 Councilman Keith Patin in supporting the measure.

Before the vote, the council heard public comment from seven people, most of them supporters of government funding of NGOs, including 232-HELP Executive Director Maria Placer. The most unexpected comment came from Jeb Bruneau, vice president of New Orleans-based conservative think tank The Pelican Institute, who spoke briefly and obliquely in favor of the phase-out ordinance.

Arts and culture non-profits — apparently content that their funding was secure based on previous reporting on the topic in The Independent Weekly and elsewhere — were well represented in the council chamber but sat quietly through the public comment. It was the social service agencies who dominated the council’s attention, and with good reason: City-Parish President Joey Durel, while in favor of LCG funding of Festival International and other culture providers, has been a leading proponent in the push to eliminate funding for social service non-profits. They have the most at stake and came prepared.

The most pointed exchange of the evening came between Faith House Executive Director Billi Lacombe and Patin. Faith House, which provides shelter, counseling and other services to female victims of domestic violence and their children, receives just more than $26,000 in direct funding from LCG. “Let’s fix this merry-go-round,” Lacombe told the council moments earlier, referring to the annual budget fight over funding non-profits. “What makes NGOs on that budget document so special …?” Patin would later ask Lacombe, who replied that Faith House didn’t create the process by which NGOs are funded and doesn’t take the funding for granted. “Whenever your police officers go out to a domestic violence call in the middle of the night — and that’s certainly one of the most dangerous situations that police officers are in,” Lacombe said, “when they need somewhere to drop off that victim, which they’re mandated by law to do — they must provide protection to the victim and ensure their safety — whether it be 2 o’clock in the afternoon or 2 o’clock in the morning, our organization is open and willing to accept that person for them. So what I’m saying is we provide a valuable service and, yes, I believe it should be funded.” Other Faith House staff members sitting quietly in the rear of the council chamber had “You go, girl!” written all over their body language.

Both sides acknowledged that beyond the ideological question of whether NGOs should be funded, a sound process for doing so must be reached, lest the divisive issue is revisited every summer as the LCG budget process gets under way.  "If me and Mr. Bellard hadn't brought up this ordinance," Theriot asked rhetorically to no one in particular, acknowledging that he didn't mind being "the bad guy" in the matter, "would we be having this discussion?"

That discussion appears ready to advance: At least two directors of culture non-profits say they have engaged the Durel administration in preliminary talks about a mechanism that gets LCG funding out of the council and as far away as possible from the politics of non-profit funding.