Walter Pierce

RE: The Nine

by Walter Pierce

We’ll soon find out if the LCC has what it takes to move Lafayette forward. Will Sept. 15, 2009, following the obligatory settling of dust, be remembered as “the day”? The day an indelible line formed in the Lafayette Consolidated Council? On that evening the council voted to eliminate LCG’s Criminal Justice Support Services department as well as three positions including that of its director. The vote was five in favor, four against — the slimmest margin possible. The CJSS department was a liaison between police, prosecutors and the public, tasked mainly with addressing crime at low-rent apartment complexes, most of them on the north side of town. The rationale of City-Parish President Joey Durel — an affluent white guy from the southside — for eliminating the department was that it duplicated services already offered by other LCG departments, i.e., to streamline city-parish government. Voting for the department’s elimination were council members from districts 5 through 9; councilmen representing districts 1 through 4 voted against.

Now look at a district map — you can see one on page 16 in this week’s cover story on leadership in Lafayette: 1-through-4 versus 5-through-9, north Lafayette versus south Lafayette, one side of the tracks against the other. That’s a poisonous dichotomy, one that has historically cast a pall over City Hall.

This council has long been seeking alliances among themselves, a not-uncommon activity of legislative bodies and sixth-graders alike. Problematic for the LCC is the fact that, with the exception of District 1 Councilman Purvis Morrison, a former Scott city councilman, each is in his very first term in elected office. Each is learning not only how government works, but who he can deal with and trust. Now let’s toss in the fait accompli, consolidation — city people and rural people seeking consensus — and our cocktail is fully mixed. I’ll chase mine with beer.

These colliding conditions — first-time politicians, widely divergent constituencies — have made for a bumpy ride 18 months into their term. They have also diminished the likelihood that the LCC will make tough choices or take up initiatives and make them their own.

The best example of this is the Lafayette IN a Century comprehensive master plan — a document detailing hundreds of planning recommendations for Lafayette’s future growth, from drainage and roads to recreation and our cultural life — assembled by scores of citizen volunteers and city employees a decade ago and currently languishing on the proverbial shelf.

At least one council member has said, and I trust my source on this, that while he hasn’t read the LINC plan, he feels like it’s “being shoved down our throats,” and he can’t stand LCG’s planning manager. In effect, it’s the messenger, not the message. I’ve heard that a lot lately: LCG’s administrators just rub some council members the wrong way because of their bureaucratic style, or their personality, or their inability to explain concepts in layman’s terms. The Durel administration budgeted $400,000 to put into a savings account to eventually jump start LINC. The council will vote on Sept. 29 whether to move the 400K to its general reserve, where it can spend it on any number of projects other than LINC.

On Aug. 18 the council rejected spending $50,000 to match a grant for studying how to apply smarth growth principles to underdeveloped or long-neglected high-volume intersections like Four Corners. Leading the charge against this planning project were the council members whose districts would have benefited.

The council is also being asked — and appears unlikely to acquiesce — to approve a rate increase for Lafayette Utilities Systems. It’s being asked to make a tough decision: approve higher utility bills during shaky economic times. But it’s also being asked to approve an investment in the future of our public utility, arguably one of the most efficient, reliable providers in the state.

Expect from this newspaper an upcoming progress report on leadership in Lafayette — a report card on the council and the administration based on the assessments of a wide swath of the community.

We won’t be grading on a curve.