Town halls likely as decon sits on shelf

by Walter Pierce

A series of public meetings as well as the appointment of a committee to devise a time line and figure out exactly what issues might be on the ballot are likely over the next 90 days. Lafayette Parish voters will not decide in 2010 whether to repeal the City-Parish Home Rule Charter and revert back to dual city and parish forms of government - the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted Tuesday to defer the issue for three months. But during the interim, a series of public meetings as well as the appointment of a committee to devise a time line and figure out exactly what issues might be on the ballot are likely, according to District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand, who offered the motion to defer the deconsolidation ordinance Tuesday.

"I think there's going to be a number of things probably happening simultaneously," Bertrand says. "One, there'll be town hall meetings; there'll be ongoing meetings with probably civic groups, a lot of discussion about what needs to be done - we'll give people the opportunity to talk - but at the same time I want somebody to let [the council] know, so that at the end of 90 days we know exactly what the process is, what the time line is, what it takes to get something on the ballot, and what will go on a ballot."

What will go on a ballot is critical. While many council watchers saw Tuesday's deferral as an acknowledgement of the fact that there weren't the six votes necessary to advance the ordinance to a November vote, some on the council including Bertrand were uncomfortable with the ordinance as written; it would have asked Lafayette Parish voters whether to repeal the city-parish charter and revert to the separate city and parish charters that were in effect pre-consolidation. Bertrand says those charters - the old city charter particularly - need to be updated.

Several scenarios could emerge in the next 90 days insofar as what parish voters may encounter in the ballot box related to deconsolidation, and that's assuming supporters of deconsolidation are able to convince some likely opponents on the council to change their minds and advance the issue to an election. A parishwide referendum on consolidated government isn't likely until spring 2011 at the earliest - about six months before the City-Parish Council elections.

Voters might be asked whether to repeal the city-parish charter and to appoint commissions to update the old parish and city charters; voters may even be asked to approve extending the terms of the current council by one year; Louisiana law prohibits cutting an elected official's term short due to a repeal or amendment to a charter. Voters might simply be asked to approve further amendments to the current city-parish charter and to keep consolidated government in place.

As it stands, there are more questions than answers. "All of this is gelling right now," Bertrand says. "I would imagine by the middle of next week you'll start seeing some meetings get scheduled."

Council Chair Jay Castille, who will be the catalyst for much of what transpires over the coming weeks, was unavaible for comment Thursday morning.