Charter commish mulls options

by Walter Pierce

The Lafayette Charter Commission on Monday engaged in an often lively discussion of possible changes to consolidated government in Lafayette Parish. The Lafayette Charter Commission on Monday engaged in an often lively discussion of possible changes to consolidated government in Lafayette Parish, reviewing one-by-one six options for governance complied by Chairman George Lewis. Most of the conversation centered on creating a separate council for the city of Lafayette, and the means by which a separate parish government would provide services to residents living in unincorporated Lafayette Parish.

If it can be said that any consensus emerged at Monday's meeting, it is that the city of Lafayette does indeed need separate governance by a council - preferably a seven- or nine-member panel, and that a separate parish government could exist with little bureacracy. Commissioner Bruce Conque, who directed the conversation among commissioners toward Lafayette's sovereignty with a presentation at last week's meeting, recommended allowing a newly created parish council to decide how it would undertake providing services in the unincorporated areas, but that a new charter should not enumerate departments and duties - only services provided. This, he argued, would allow a parish council flexibility in deciding how it would provide those services, including through intergovernmental agreements with the parish's six municipalities.

The idea resonated with others on the commission. "I like Bruce's idea that we don't put those things in the charter," said commissioner Steve Oats. "We let the people elected to make those decisions have that authority without having to go and change the charter again. Give them the authority as elected officials to do what's necessary."

But Commissioner Don Bacque, a city resident, said he still isn't sold on creating separate councils for the parish and the city, arguing that the cost would be prohibitive for the parish and that, ultimately, it would be tough sell for residents outside the city. "The problem we face," Bacque said, "is that the easiest vote that anyone makes is a no vote. The hardest vote is a yes vote - you've got to give them a reason to vote yes. And if you can find negatives in the proposal, they're going to tend to vote no. So, my feeling is, as we look at these different models, when we're looking at something that's going to parishwide, we ought to be looking at how does it affect the parish. Everything we're discussing is, how does it affect the city? What are we going to do to make the city of Lafayette more viable. And I suggest that most people sitting out there tonight don't really care about trying to make the city of Lafayette better. What they want to do is make their lives better. And how does someone that lives in Broussard, how do we convince them that what we suggest is better for them?"

Conque, who on Oct. 11 suggested a consolidation model based on services districts - another way of saying municipal boundaries - acknowledged Lewis' concern that such a model would be difficult to promote as a parishwide referendum because of its terminology.

"I'm not going to fall on the sword in favor of what I first suggested," Conque said. "My intent was that the city of Lafayette have its own council. The city of Lafayette have its own mayor. It is only fair that we as a community be treated equally ... as the other municipalities. Every other municipality has its own mayor, its own council. Why should the city of Lafayette carry the burden for providing for the parish? That's my whole point. We do not have our own governing body; we've lost sovereignty. We don't determine our own destiny."

The commission is scheduled to begin deliberations on Nov. 1, which could last until early next spring when the panel must, by law, make a recommendation on the current charter. It seems evident at this point that the process will focus on how to grant the city of Lafayette the same self-determination that the other municipalities in the parish enjoy, likely through the elections of a separate Lafayette City Council and mayor.