Community Agenda 2019: You asked, we listened, they answered

Over the last couple of months, we’ve asked readers online and in person to tell us what they think candidates for local government should be talking about. It’s not a revolutionary idea; citizens, not politicians, ought to set the agenda for political campaigns.

We called it Community Agenda 2019, a way of giving a direct voice to our readers in holding their leaders accountable. Citizens answered the call.

Read local candidates’ responses to Community Agenda 2019 here.

To date, we’ve heard from more than 240 readers across the parish who raised a broad range of concerns. We heard about roads, the budget, the economy, social equity, housing, violence, transportation, education and much more. Some themes were universal — lots of people care about education, wherever they are — and others were unique to specific districts. Some readers had a lot to say. Most readers kept it simple, identifying what they cared about in a few short words. 

Building the agenda is an art, not a science. It isn’t a poll. We’re not suggesting that it’s reflective of the entire electorate’s position. In creating the questionnaires we sought consensus out of what we heard from you. 

A bit about our method 

We sifted through the entries and tagged them by theme. Responses were sorted by city and parish council district to find the most common topics in each area of town. Within in each district, we took the top five most cited categories and “flavored” them with the rest. It’s why some races may produce questions on the same issue — e.g., “economic development” — with different readouts — e.g., “talk to us about economic development on the Northside.”  

Candidates for city and parish councils were asked to answer the same five questions pertinent their district. Candidates for mayor-president received a questionnaire drawn from the top 10 subjects parishwide. They’ve got the biggest job; they should take the biggest test. Crossfading the big and little pictures this way opened up room for issues that may be overlooked, while ensuring the most frequently talked about stuff — like drainage — was adequately represented. 

If you’re curious, here’s how the parishwide top 10 ranked:

  • Drainage 39% 
  • Infrastructure 25% 
  • Economic Development 22% 
  • Budget/Taxation 20% 
  • Community Development 17% 
  • Education 14% 
  • Land Use 12% 
  • Accessible Transportation 10% 
  • Public Safety 10% 
  • Transparency 8.5%

Each of these categories could have been broken down into its own subgroup. In fact, in many cases, we rolled up related but distinct issues into one category, again using the process of “flavoring” to hone questions about that topic in each district and for the parish as a whole. Some folks who talked about the budget and taxation may have said that taxes are too high; others thought the government needs more money. The commonality is they want candidates to address the budget and how you fund it, and tell us what they’re going to do about it. 

While this project focuses on LCG-related offices, much of what we heard falls outside the direct powers of the councils and the mayor-president’s office, most obviously education. It’s true that these offices don’t have direct control over the Lafayette Parish School System, but once elected, these candidates will nevertheless be in positions of influence that can affect areas beyond their immediate levers of power. Whether a candidate believes that’s his or her duty is itself a position. Regardless, the point is, voters want to hear about these issues, so we included them. It’s incumbent (ha!) on the candidates to decide if and how to address their constituents’ concerns when they don’t quite fit the job description. 

Lastly, we want to keep hearing from you. Feel free to continue chiming in on Community Agenda 2019 by following this link. The responses may be in, but your input continues to guide what The Current covers and how we cover it. We’re a nonprofit news organization that believes our readers are our stakeholders. We’re here to serve you. So we’re listening. 

If you’d like to see more public service journalism like this, consider donating to The Current, Lafayette’s only nonprofit news organization.

About the Author

Christiaan Mader founded The Current in 2018, reviving the brand from a short-lived culture magazine he created for Lafayette publisher INDMedia. An award-winning investigative and culture journalist, Christiaan’s work as a writer and reporter has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Offbeat, Gambit, and The Advocate.

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