Castille maintains faith in current charter

by Walter Pierce

LCG's legal department is drafting an ordinance that would create a charter commission; deconsolidation is taking a back seat to improving the existing charter.

Lafayette City-Parish Council Chair Jay Castille has directed the legal department of Lafayette Consolidated Government to draft an ordinance that would clear the way for creation of an official charter commission tasked with making improvements to the existing City-Parish Home Rule Charter. While Castille's creation of a charter committee in January - a committee that on Feb. 2 voted to advance an ordinance that would put a charter repeal to a parishwide vote - got talk of deconsolidation going in earnest in Lafayette Parish, the District 2 representative remains committed to maintaining consolidated government. "I think what we have is something that can be corrected and worked on," he says. "We can't just say, Look, we're just going to throw it to the voters and get rid of it.' That doesn't make much sense. I think it can be corrected, I really do."

Last Tuesday the council deferred an ordinance that would have put a parishwide proposition on the ballot in November asking voters whether the current charter should be repealed. The deferral tables the ordinance for 90 days. Supporters of deconsolidation admit there weren't the six votes necessary on the council to advance the ordinance anyway; deferring it was a means of putting the ordinance on life support rather than have it killed by a vote of the council. Some on the council who favor putting deconsolidation to a parishwide vote also had reservations about the ordinance as written: If approved, it would have returned Lafayette Parish to dual governments operating under their separate, pre-1996 charters - constitutions that many believe are outdated and wouldn't be a suitable or better alternative to the existing consolidated charter. "Going back to the old charters is not solving our problems.," Castille adds.

As council chair, Castille is in a position to steer the conversation on deconsolidation. And while his second district in north Lafayette is 48 percent city - he is no doubt hearing both sides of the debate from constituents - he remains intent on guiding the process toward improving the existing charter rather than repealing it.

"At this point," says Pat Ottinger, city-parish attorney, "my scope is to create a charter commission that would study the current, existing charter for LCG and to make recommendations as to how it might be amended, approved, etc. I have not been asked to look beyond the current LCG charter to address potential charters for the city or the parish standing alone." Ottinger says he expects a draft ordinance for the formation of a charter commission to be completed "maybe this week."

Any changes to the charter will have to be approved by voters. As it stands, the only thing on a ballot in November of this year will be a proposition that would amend the existing charter to remove a requirement that council districts be redrawn at least six months before an election following the receipt of census numbers. Those census figures aren't expected back from the feds until March of 2011 - seven months before the October council elections, meaning redistricting would have to be squeezed into a single month.

Ottinger says he anticipates the soonest the public could vote on broader changes to the existing charter recommended by a charter commission would be April of 2011. "I'm not saying that's the objective," Ottinger cautions. "My marching orders are not necessarily to see that happen by that date - to do it or not do it."

Castille, meanwhile, awaits a draft ordinance clearing the way for the creation of a charter commission - a commission that would likely be a nine-member body with appointments made by the Durel administration, the council, and possibly another entity.

"We're going to do it right," Castille says. "I'm trying to do this right."