Mais la! Council tables repeal of bar fee; decon advances in batch

by Walter Pierce

Lafayette City-Parish Council runs a tab on bar levy and advances deconsolidation referendum.

With a kumbaya moment between police and downtown bar owners apparently nigh, the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted Wednesday to table an ordinance that would repeal the levy paid by downtown night clubs to cover the cost of a Lafayette Police Department security detail on Thursday through Saturday nights. The motion to table the ordinance was made by sponsor Brandon Shelvin, whose LCG 2nd District seat represents downtown Lafayette, after well over an hour of discussion on the topic. The council also advanced an introductory ordinance that would put a repeal of consolidated government before voters in November.

Police Chief Jim Craft revealed that a recent review of security requirements downtown shows the police department could rely on a smaller security detail if the bar owners agreed to personally hire officers to work off-duty security in front of their businesses at a rate of $40 per hour, which the bars did a few years ago. LCG Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley argued that bars would in fact pay more annually if they hired their own off-duty officers as opposed to paying a levy, and urged the council to vote against repealing the fee schedule. "It doesn't make much sense to repeal the ordinance," he said. "What makes sense is to get back with the bar owners We understand the spirit of Mr. Shelvin's ordinance, be we oppose it and urge you to vote no.'"

Before an agreement to submit bars to a monthly security levy was reached last March, bar owners were hiring officers for off-duty security and paying them through consolidated government. But, according to Grant Street Dancehall owner Danny Smith, traffic in the bars fell due to a lagging economy and the bars were forced to draw down the number of off-duty officers hired to maintain order in front of the bars. Smith urged the council to repeal the bar levy ordinance and allow the bar owners to hire security based on "historical trends" in attendance and not on bar capacity.

Police, bar owners and LCG representatives have been holding monthly meetings to iron out an agreement since late last November when police determined that the monthly fee, based on bar occupancy, needed to be raised dramatically due to an increased demand on police. In some cases the monthly fee for larger bars like Karma rose nearly three-fold, from an agreed-upon ceiling of $1,500 per month to more than $4,000. "It's an officer-security issue," Craft told the council, explaining that the formula for the number of officers in the detail is based on the minimum number of officers necessary to "keep officers and the public safe."

The issue took a hard turn toward resolution when District 4 Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, steward of the most crime-stressed district in the parish, vented his increasingly patented frustration with issues that get bogged down in what he views as semantic complications. "Something has to give," Boudreaux exclaimed. "Somebody has to pay!"

Lafayette Police have an annual overtime budget of $250,000 - a budget that, according to Craft, is more than maxed out due to the demands of supplying a security detail downtown. At last calculation, the security detail cost taxpayers about $320,000 annually; the bars and city-parish government bear an equal burden for covering the cost. Turning his ire toward impresario Smith, Boudreaux said, "I can tell you right now, if this [ordinance] is repealed, when [Craft] runs out of that $250,000, he's going to cut services. You know what happens then? You know who needs the greatest law enforcement service in Lafayette? District 4."

After learning that bar owners and the police were not far from reaching a security agreement amendable to both the bar owners and LCG's budget, Boudreaux suggested that Shelvin table the ordinance to give the sides time to work out a deal. Shelvin agreed, and the vote to table the ordinance was unanimous. In the interim, a consensus emerged that repealing the ordinance without an alternative agreement in place would serve neither Lafayette taxpayers nor the security situation downtown. The issue will be readdressed after police and bar owners signal to Shelvin that an alternative security arrangement has been reached.

For more on the recurring rancor between bars and batons in downtown Lafayette, read The Independent's Nov. 9 cover story, "Bar Fight."

The most explosive ordinance on Wednesday's agenda - to let parish voters decide in November whether to repeal the city-parish charter and return to dual city and parish forms of government - had a wet fuse. The ordinance was voted on in globo, that is, voted on as part of a group of roughly a dozen introductory ordinances. It sailed through to a final vote on March 9 along with its kindred ordinances.

Despite the fact that the ordinance was being voted on in globo and consequently not subject to the ministerial showmanship of the council, several residents including a Democratic operative and a retired UL dean, filled out blue cards to register their opinions before the council on the deconsolidation issue. Sentiment among the blue cards was mixed, from urging the council to vote in favor of the ordinance giving parish voters say on whether to deconsolidate to urging the council to give voters more time to digest the implications of repealing the city-parish charter.

Repealing the city-parish charter, which has been in effect since 1996, could have far-reaching implications. Read our Feb. 9 cover story, "Fault Line," for more on the issue.