We’re grading the Lafayette Consolidated Council this week, for better and for worse I know from the one year I worked as a teacher in a small parochial school — a period I fondly recall as a more or less nine-month colonoscopy — that bad grades are as painful to give as they are to receive. So it’s with some discomfort that we offer this week’s cover story on the Lafayette Consolidated Council — a group that can be obstinate, headstrong, illogical and vain, but is our council nonetheless.
We turned to a wide assortment of Lafayette Parish residents — northside, southside, Republican, Democrat, urban, rural, black, white, public sector and private sector — to help in this process. What they share in common is long-term engagement in the affairs of the parish, in the mechanism of local government; they’ve watched and interacted with previous councils and with this council. They have breadth of experience. They care. But they are also, many of them anyway, people who must do business with the LCC in one form or another. That’s why anonymity was critical — we want candor, which is nearly impossible to acquire when names are on the record. But in the end, these grades are ours and ours alone.
What is apparent from this process, and from talking to a diverse swath of people in Lafayette Parish, is that this council is still green; still learning how to navigate LCG’s congested straits. They’re more than 18 months into office, but in fairness, LCG is not the Dewey Decimal System. City-Parish President Joey Durel has admitted it took him a full term to begin understanding how government works. I confess to the same mystification: During my years as a reporter at a daily newspaper, I covered city government like torn fishnet, which is to say hardly at all.
What is pleasantly and surprisingly apparent is that politics in Lafayette can be very unlike politics at the national level. Indeed, on some issues there is a north-south, Democrat-Republican line that cuts through the parish roughly along Cameron Street and the Southern-Pacific railroad. But that’s not always the case. It’s not all Limbaugh versus Franken in Lafayette, and I think that’s why we’ve had success in building arguably (bias alert) the best city in Louisiana.
But will we continue to build on that success? Undoubtedly there are the flat-earthers among us who believe that any tax is bad, any rate increase is bad and that government can’t do anything right, no pun intended, and they have representation on the council. Check the comment section at theind.com for this column and the cover story in a week or so. They’ll be there screaming their heads off. But I think they’re merely an obnoxious, noxious minority.
Our take on this council is that fewer than a simple majority is there for the right reason — to make Lafayette better, and a simple majority within that minority isn’t up to the task, not yet anyway. They don’t understand the issues or how to get things done — how to build alliances and compromise. Others have a chip on their shoulder and bring ideological grudges to the meetings. And there are a few on the council who, it’s evident, are there for the wrong reasons: in celebration of ego or to grab at the low-hanging, rotten fruit that tempts many an elected official. And there are some on the council who are a complete mystery — no engagement, no facial expressions, driftwood propelled by the tide.
The purpose of these grades isn’t to slam the council. Report cards assess where you are so you know where you need to go. We also hope this generates healthy public dialogue. I’m certain it will in the short term have a chilling effect on our relationship with some council members. They’re going to be P-O’d. But in the meantime, council, no texting or TV ’til you get those grades up.