Walter Pierce

Durel defends stand on downtown bars

by Walter Pierce

On his weekly radio program this morning on KPEL, City-Parish President Joey Durel, joined by Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft, defended his position on bars in downtown Lafayette and the crowds and attendant police security requirements.

“We’ve got to maintain a healthy downtown,” Durel said, “and what you need is some balance. In my frustration I did make that comment and said I think we have too many bars downtown, and that’s it. That’s how I feel.”

On Monday, the INDsider published an e-mail thread between Durel and Rob Robison, owner of Jefferson Street Market, in which Durel essentially agreed with Robison’s observation that crime in the downtown is “spiralling out of control” and that bars are the root of the problem. “If I can declare a midnight curfew legally, and ya’ll come [to] a meeting to ask for it...I’m there!” Durel declares enthusiastically in reply to Robison. On the radio this morning, Durel tempered his attitude toward the bars, saying, “Let me qualify something: There are people who run legitimate operations. I wouldn’t want to see people who follow the rules, who play by the rules, that wouldn’t be a goal of mine, to see good operators go. But those who abuse, those who say we’re going to do one thing and they do something else, at some point, if we’re going to thin it out a little bit, I’d rather see those who don’t play by the rules go, and have those that do play by rules be more successful.”

Durel was referring to the cooperative endeavor agreement established last February between the bar owners on Jefferson Street and Lafayette Consolidated Government wherein bars agreed to pay a monthly levy based on their occupancy to help the police department defray the cost of paying overtime for a security detail on Thursday through Saturday nights. Combined, the bars pay a total of $168,900 annually — half the cost of annual overtime for the police officers. The fee schedule distributed to the media following the agreement shows a monthly cap of $1,500 for the largest establishments — Karma and Nite Town. However, in recent days bar owners have been receiving letters from LCG indicating that their monthly levy was rising effective immediately due to increased manpower demands on the P.D. Karma owner Robert Oja tells the INDsider his monthly fee was raised to $4,020. The increased fees are due this week. But bar owners met among themselves on Wednesday and decided to only pay what they were previously paying. A 10 percent penalty for late payment is included in the ordinance, which also stipulates that bars that fail to pay their levy after 10 days are subject to suspension of licenses. A meeting between the city and the club owners is set for Monday.

This morning, Craft defended the levy hike: “The ordinance that was passed back in [February] required bar owners to contribute toward a levy each month to help control the cost of security, which was skyrocketing. In that ordinance, a cooperative endeavor agreement was offered to larger club owners who said, ‘I would like to have policemen to stay in front of my bar all the time.’ Well, you have to pay extra for that. After the ordinance was passed, many of those bar owners decided not to take advantage of that cooperative endeavor agreement. As a result, it reduced the total number of people that we have to deploy in that area Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights ... Well, when you have to provide additional personnel and it’s not a wash where the bar owners are paying, then our costs go up... We determined we were going to need a pretty big increase because of the number of people we have to put down there.”

But bar owners, who were also present in the KPEL studio, dispute Craft’s recollection of the agreement. Grant Street Dancehall owner Danny Smith this morning said the agreement meant that police officers would no longer be needed in front of each bar, and that the city’s decision to remove the $1,500 cap was more or less arbitrary. Smith also argued that business was down for every bar in Lafayette — in effect, that the burden on the police department was less now than it was when the original deal was struck.