Walter Pierce

A Stunning Lack of Incompetence

by Walter Pierce

Lafayette Consolidated Government makes life hard for local media We envy newspapers like The Times-Picayune and Gambit Weekly. New Orleans has corruption in its government institutions — widespread, endemic, congenital corruption; cancerous corruption that no chemical can ameliorate. It cannot be zapped by microwaves. New Orleans has bribes and kickbacks, back stabbing and malfeasance — all the colorful enumerations of bad, selfish, greedy behavior by which Louisiana’s political reputation is calculated. That malaise is apparently spreading with the city’s white flight: Mandeville’s recently former mayor pleaded guilty a week and a half ago to federal tax evasion and mail fraud charges. Now that’s working for the people (in the press).

Investigation. Arrest. Trial. Conviction. Sentence. They’re the bread and butter of journalism, especially journalism willing to take on people in power at the risk of alienating them. Government in the Big Easy is a big easy target; it has produced a spring in the step of reporters there for decades.

Here in Lafayette, it’s been a tougher row to hoe. We rejoice when a police chief confesses to bugging his secretary’s office or a grandstanding councilman scribbles graffiti on a credenza. Is that the best we can do? It’s superficial. A scrape in need of Bactine, a Band Aid and a kiss from mother.

This week’s cover story assessing the performance of department heads in Lafayette Consolidated Government is proof that it’s a desert out there. Certainly there is dysfunction in LCG — it wouldn’t be a human enterprise otherwise. That’s the idea we’re trying to convey in the image on this week’s cover: The structure isn’t perfect — there are gaps and misalignments — but it is somehow sound. It stands on its own. That’s no small undertaking in a consolidated government where rural and urban have to find a way to mesh competing prerogatives.

By and large, LCG is functional. Its upper management is competent; they have training and degrees in their areas of expertise. They do a good job at salaries probably lower than what they could earn in the private sector. Most of them are local, invested in the community. There are no black helicopters hovering over Lafayette, which sucks for us in local media. We watch and wait, then wait and watch.

One thing to watch is City-Parish President Joey Durel’s quest to equip all vehicles in the LCG fleet — from company cars to multi-axle trucks — with GPS tracking. He didn’t sell councilmen on the idea during budget finalization — the council balked — but he reinstated the nearly $400,000 in the budget for GPS with his veto pen. Durel is convinced, based on a stunning example of fuel savings after a state agency started using GPS, that the system will pay for itself quickly.

How? By making LCG employees honest. One implication of wanting GPS in all city-parish vehicles is that some LCG employees are using the vehicles for purposes other than what’s on the work order — putting extra, unauthorized miles on them. Durel is too nice a guy to say it plainly, which hurt his sales pitch to the council, but that’s part of it: some LCG employees are skimming from the proverbial till. That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

The council failed to override Durel's veto reinstating the GPS funding. In the meantime, if the worst that’s happening in Lafayette Consolidated Government is that some employees are driving their GI-Goes more than they should be, we’re doing pretty well.