Vetoes, parish budget flare tensions between mayor-president and council

Photo by Travis Gauthier
Council members Bruce Conque, left, and Kevin Naquin

▸ The gist: Discussing vetoes and a crunched parish budget, council members criticized the Robideaux administration’s policies and complained about a lack of communication, revealing some tension between the two branches of local government.

▸ Disorder of business: The council took up a dense docket of pressing and contentious issues on Tuesday, including three budget amendment vetoes issued by the mayor-president. Robideaux had previously vetoed measures to give LCG employees a cost of living raise and to add 10 new firefighters, and a maneuver to effectively table his appointment of new directors for LUS and LUS Fiber by defunding the salaries for those positions. The council voted to override the mayor-president’s pay raise veto, while his firefighter veto was sustained. The two bodies reached an informal compromise to defer filling the open director positions until the smoke clears on Bernhard Capital Partners’ proposal to privatize management of LUS. At Robideaux’s request, the council will take up a resolution pinning the compromise down in November.

“I wish we would have this discussion during the budget hearing,” Robideaux said, defending his position on the LUS director salaries. “I certainly would have conceded to the council.” Robideaux complained that the defunding amendment, Bruce Conque’s procedural brainchild, caught him off guard. Conque’s amendment reduced the budget salary of each position to $1, sparking a miniature constitutional crisis that pitted the council’s power to appropriate money against the mayor-president’s power to set salaries for his directors. City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott argued Conque’s defunding move was illegal and the the mayor-president’s powers would win out per common legal practice.

“With all due respect, I sent you a memo on Aug. 23,” Conque replied, noting that he asked the mayor-president to delay interviewing for the open positions until a decision is reached on Bernhard Capital Partners’ proposal. “I have had no response.”  

Conque has made similar complaints about the administration’s responsiveness, or lack thereof, on its move to sell a parish parking garage to the city to shore up the parish budget.

“I don’t like being placed in a political position, painted into a political corner,”
 Conque said about the transaction, describing the move as late-coming.“This should have happened months ago. That is not fair to this council.” 

“We alerted you to the fact that this was an issue,”
 Robideaux countered, saying that his office had supplied the council via email with options on the garage transaction in August.

▸ Irreconcilable differences:
 The tension boiling here is a difference of opinion on how to address the parish budget crunch. Council members insisted the 2-percent pay raises Robideaux vetoed were manageable in the current budget, even as they criticized the mayor-president’s garage proposal as a papering over of the parish’s dire financial situation. Conque was the most pointed in his remarks generally — he has previously criticized the administration publicly for leaving the council out of the loop on the Bernhard deal and issues with the Lafayette Police Department — but other council members chimed in with similar discontentment.

“You’re boxing a parish guy in that if we don’t sell the building, we got to find $770,000 to cut,” 
Council Chairman Kevin Naquin, who represents a majority parish district, said of the garage deal. Naquin argued that administration should have reconciled the parish budget without assuming the sale would go through, saying that the reality of the cuts needed to be felt.

“I made the cuts. And then it’s like, but we should have cut more. You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” 
Robideaux responded, referring to the deep cuts his administration made in the adopted budget, in some cases 25 percent reductions.

Robideaux has been notably silent on several tax proposals promoted by Naquin, Conque, Jay Castille and Kenneth Boudreaux. He argued Tuesday night that he believes the public elected him to find solutions outside of new taxes.

“The public is looking at me to say do everything in your power before you come to me for taxes,” 
Robideaux said. “I figure this is the kind of solution the people put me in office to come up with.” 

▸ All’s well that ends well:
This round of flare-ups resolved amicably with solutions identified. It’s perfectly normal for there to be differences of opinion in politics. On a discord scale of one to Washington D.C., this rates maybe a three. But Robideaux’s moves on LUS have clearly rattled the foundation of trust between the two bodies. That may not be irreversible as yet, but it could prove problematic for Robideaux’s agenda if the council continues to feel boxed out.

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