Commish emails portend panel's direction

by Walter Pierce

A series of electronic messages circulated among members of the Lafayette Charter Commission offer insight into where the panel's deliberations may lead in the coming months.

A series of electronic messages circulated among members of the Lafayette Charter Commission offer insight into where the panel's deliberations may lead in the coming months. Discussion at the Oct. 11 meeting centered on Lafayette's need to obtain self-determination through its own council. The email sequence that followed that meeting suggests that at least two commissioners including the panel's chairman intend to direct conversation toward that discussion.

The series begins with an Oct. 12 message from commission Chairman George Lewis, who provides as an attachment to his message a chart delineating six options for the council to consider in making its recommendation to voters:

1. Maintain the current form of consolidated government
2. Maintain the current form of government but establish a separate commission to operate Lafayette Utilities System, a city-owned enterprise
3. Adopt the consolidated form of government in place in Duval County, Fla., which would give Lafayette a city council but maintain the mayor-president form of executive oversight currently in use by LCG
4. Give Lafayette a city council and the parish a parish council; keep operations of the two consolidated and have a mayor-president
5. Separte city and parish councils with a mayor for Lafayette and a parish president; maintain consolidated operations
6. Total deconsolidation

In Commissioner Bruce Conque's Oct. 11 presentation, a proposal was made that Lafayette Parish adopt a modified version of Duval County, with Lafayette having a separate city council and mayor and breaking up the parish into seven "services districts" (municipal boundaries) comprising the six municipalities - Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Lafayette, Scott and Youngsville - and unincorporated Lafayette Parish.

Lewis' message the following day acknowledges Conque's call for Lafayette having its own council, but Lewis takes exception with some of Conque's points: It seems that a majority of the commission feels that the City of Lafayette should have its own government. ...As I noted last night, I think that the simplest and easiest solution to this issue is Column Number 4 where the only change in the governance structure is to establish a separate 5 member City council but keep one Mayor/President position and one CAO and continue the consolidation of services. That would solve the issue of the LPUA - it would be governed by the City Council, all of whom would be residents of the City of Lafayette...

Lewis also proposes that the mayor-president of Lafayette Parish, who would have veto authority over the votes of the Lafayette City Council, could be a resident of anywhere in the parish, as is currently the case. Lewis also warns against Conque's use of the term "services districts," arguing that the commission needs "to keep our proposal as simple as possible without confusing the issues."

The commissioner also proposes simplifying the description of duties of city and parish departments to give the administration more flexibility, as well as convening a charter commission every 10 years to review the charter for possible updates/changes.

On Oct. 13, in reply, Conque acknowledges that his model is encumbered by the use of services districts, but argues that Lafayette needs not only its own council, but its own mayor as well, saying to do otherwise "ignores a hard learned political history lesson."

You acknowledge that the Mayor/President would be a resident of the Parish who might be a resident of Lafayette, or a resident of Youngsville, or someone from the unincorporated area of the Parish. And to the detriment of the City of Lafayette that is what occurred in the first eight years of LCG.

Parish President Walter Comeaux was not a City of Lafayette resident and, thus, had no vested interest in our development. In fact, he gave away the one "carrot" for City growth by providing wholesale water to most of the Parish. The result was that the City of Lafayette actually decreased in its percentage of Parish population from 66% to 54% under LCG.

...The City of Lafayette has sacrificed its sovereignty for the greater good of the whole under Lafayette Consolidated Government. Fellow Commissioners, let's continue our effort to treat the City of Lafayette fairly and equally under whatever structure of government which we may recommend.

However, not all of Conque's fellow commissioners were swayed by his entreaty. In a message the next day to the commission, Commissioner Don Bacque, a city of Lafayette resident, tells members of the panel he remains skeptical of the direction the commission is headed:

The only string that binds all of us together is that we are residents of Lafayette Parish. In my mind, anything that we suggest to the citizens should respond to this question: "is it better for the parish"; not as we are hearing: "is it better for the city?" I question the logic of the often heard allegation that a council member elected from the unincorporated area cannot fairly represent the interests of city residents. ... I suggest that a council member, elected by only city residents, may be just as truculent, and our history of administration vs. council has many instances of that happening.

... I think that Bruce's concept, less the additional elected members, is a viable one. I am still not convinced that an additional layer of governance, with its won additional bureaucracy, is the anwer, but I am willing to listen.

The Lafayette Charter Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the City-Parish Council auditorium. The meeting is open to the public and also airs on AOC.