Walter Pierce

re: The Thrill of Victory

by Walter Pierce

How Joey Durel walked away a winner after getting more than half of his vetoes overridden by the council “I was thrilled!”

That was the start of City-Parish President Joey Durel’s terse response via e-mail to my question, “Were you surprised at the number of veto overrides?” It wasn’t the response I anticipated. A few days earlier, on Oct. 20, the City-Parish Council overrode seven of Durel’s 12 vetoes, reinstating about $660,000 in expenditures for the fiscal year that begins next week out of $1.17 million Durel had cut with the swipe of his pen. Fifty-six percent of what Durel vetoed was put back into the $587 million budget.

“Prevailed on more than I expected [and on the important ones].”

That was Durel’s next line. He’s referring in part to the administration’s bid to equip Lafayette Consolidated Goverment and Lafayette Utilities System vehicles with a GPS-tracking device. Durel budgeted $395,000 for the system — $275,000 for LCG, $120,000 for LUS. The council struck the funding from the final budget. Durel vetoed it back in. The council voted 5-4 to override — one vote short of accomplishing it. The administration made a good pitch for GPS: anticipated 20 percent savings in fuel costs annually; the system would quickly pay for itself. The logic was evidently good enough for Councilman William Theriot, a budget hawk with a business background who has steadfastly opposed virtually all non-essential expenditures.

About the only levity — if you can call it that — in the marathon veto session came from Lafayette architect Andy Hebert. Remember him? His raison d’etre is architecting, and deconstructing consolidation. He was a constant nemesis of councils past more than a dozen years ago when Lafayette the city and Lafayette the parish were courting but had not yet wed. He disappeared for a while, but on Oct. 21, 13 years into an oftentimes rocky marriage, he was back, and one suspects his appearances before the council may become more frequent. Hebert submitted a blue card — that’s what you do when you want to address the council about a particular topic of discussion — for every veto they discussed, at one point prompting council Chairman Purvis Morrison to joke that Hebert should have been provided a chair next to the mic. I learned two important things: Andy Hebert still doesn’t like consolidation, and Purvis Morrison’s ability to keep his eyes in their proper orbit deserves our keen admiration.

“Was also happy with the fact that the process worked.”

That may be the most important and telling of Durel’s four-sentence response. The process worked. The stretch of the council meeting devoted to discussing and voting on vetoes was painfully long — just shy of four hours — harkening back to the dark days of MLK Drive. But the civics were civil, and virtually everyone involved — Durel and the nine council members — scored victories here and there. Jared Bellard and Jay Castille will get parking lots at public parks in their districts paved to the tune of $150,000 each; Brandon Shelvin will get $67,000 worth of traffic-calming devices for his constituents who live on a dangerous stretch of road; Durel gets his GPS. And almost a third of the vetoes the council overrode were Durel’s deletions of unfilled LCG positions (laborers and equipment operators) — the money likely will not be spent anyway.

The council showed a willingness to be bi-partisan, to talk things through. There was give. There was take. Democrats joined Republicans and vice versa in voting for or against overrides. Indeed, the old north side-versus-south side, Republican-versus-Democrat dynamic revealed itself on some votes. But overall, the veto session was workmanlike. It worked.

When the session began, I anticipated it would take a while. Three hours and 50 minutes later, I too was thrilled. That it was over.