Fake letters in The Times of Acadiana, tax votes are coming and LUS looks to the Supreme Court
WHO'S D. SMITH?
Since June, The Independent Weekly has received five letters to the editor from an individual who signs them as "D. Smith." Each letter was sent in an envelope without a return address. None of Smith's letters have been published in The Independent.
The problem with the letters is that the phone number D. Smith gives as his home phone number is actually the number for the office of Lafayette Consolidated Government's Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, and Smith's Carencro mailing address is for a subdivision development. Smith's letters are usually diatribes directed at Stanley and City-Parish President Joey Durel.
One of Smith's letters showed up in the pages of The Daily Advertiser on Aug. 11. Its subject was the relationship between Durel and former Lafayette Police Chief Randy Hundley, titled "Police Issue a Tale of Two Hundleys." The Advertiser has had problems in the past with its letters to the editor, sometimes publishing ones that were plagiarized; former Executive Editor Juli Metzger vowed to be more vigilant in screening letters and making sure that readers were submitting their own words, but the problem has continued.
Last week, one of D. Smith's letters, titled "Another LUS Loss," was published in The Times of Acadiana. According to The Times' own submission guidelines, letter writers must provide a mailing address and "a daytime phone number for purposes of verification." All five of the letters received by The Independent listed Stanley's office number as the daytime telephone number. The Times' Managing Editor Gene Williams would not comment on how letters in The Times are verified or who verifies them. "I'm not going to talk about it with you," he says. "We'll have plenty of comment in our paper."
After the letter was removed from The Times' Web site, Williams issued an apology to the readers of the paper and stated the letter was a hoax. He also wrote: "We've received several letters from D. Smith over the months, none of which were printed in the paper because they did not conform to policy." Apparently, Williams isn't aware of what's being published in his own paper ' or he's already forgotten.
On July 12, The Times of Acadiana published its first letter by Smith titled "Joey and Randy," in reference again to Durel and Hundley's relationship. Williams' statement that no other letters by Smith were published in The Times is even more laughable, since the first letter in July was accompanied by an "editor's note" that helped clarify the point made by "D. Smith." ' R. Reese Fuller
TAX VOTES COMING
After much hand-wringing, the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted to put a proposal for a 1-cent sales tax increase across the parish on the Nov. 7 ballot to fund new road and drainage improvements, with an emphasis on alleviating traffic. However, each of the parish's six municipalities, and a special district of the unincorporated areas, will be voting on the issue separately. This accommodates legal issues involving the parish's smaller municipalities, like Scott and Broussard, that want to maintain control of the spending of the new revenue, but not have the uptick count toward their city's total cap on sales taxes. One potential problem with this system is that some areas of the parish may pass the tax while others don't, leading to disproportionate growth. City-parish President Joey Durel would have preferred to see one parish-wide vote on the tax, but the issues involved with dividing money between six municipalities made that virtually impossible. "We're not a truly consolidated parish," he says, "and you have to go with the cards your dealt."
The council also approved putting a new property tax, expected to generate $70 million, to a parish-wide vote on Nov. 7. The property tax would fund a new $54 million parish courthouse at the site of the old federal courthouse on Jefferson Street. The remaining funds would be used to renovate the existing parish courthouse for other government office space. ' Nathan Stubbs
LUS LOOKING TO SUPREME COURT
LUS' fiber-to-the-home project has been tied up in court for the past two years, but LUS Director Terry Huval and City-Parish President Joey Durel are gearing up for what could be a momentous final hearing ' if the Louisiana state Supreme Court decides to hear the case.
Last month, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the 2004 Local Government Fair Competition Act prevented LUS from pledging the total assets of its utility system in securing bonds for the fiber initiative ' a ruling that jeopardizes the project. The language of The Fair Competition Act, which the Legislature passed to govern LUS' entry into the telecommunications business, has been the focus of much of the public utility's court battles on its fiber plan. The act contains seemingly conflicting statements on whether or not LUS can use revenue and assets from its utilities operations to secure market-rate loans and bolster the bond rating for its telecommunications venture. A district court judge had previously ruled in LUS' favor on the issue.
Huval and City-Parish President Joey Durel were visiting newspapers across the state this week trumpeting their case ' which they insist affects much more than just LUS. Their appeal to the Supreme Court argues that the 3rd Circuit ruling opens the door to legislative tampering and legal challenges with every future municipal bond issue.
"This has much more far-reaching affects than just Lafayette and its fiber initiative," Durel says. "This muddies up the waters for municipalities across the state when they try to go sell bonds. At a time in our state when, if anything, we need to be getting out of the box and finding innovative ways to rebuild it, you've got a court that has clamped down even more on communities' ability to grow. And, it's a very dangerous thing.
"Based on this," he continues, "a community that is going to sell bonds has the risk that somebody, as we have in this case, who is just against a particular project, can cause problems. The way the [3rd Circuit Court] ruled was pretty shocking to me."
The issue attracted the attention of the Louisiana Municipal Association, which has filed an "amicus curiae" brief to the Supreme Court, supporting Lafayette and LUS's case. Because of the potential statewide impact of the 3rd Circuit Court's ruling, Durel believes there's a good chance the Supreme Court will accept the case and possibly make an expedited ruling on the matter.
The LUS director says that he is also weighing other options for the fiber project in the event that the Supreme Court turns down the case or issues an unfavorable ruling. To date, LUS has spent a total of $2.5 million on the project, including $605,000 on legal fees. ' Nathan Stubbs