Intervening in the charter suit, secretary of state looks for answers

The Lafayette Parish Courthouse
UPDATE: Thursday's hearing will be cancelled, according to Clerk of Court Louis Perret. A trial will be set for May 8.

The gist: As it stands, the suit filed in district court last week challenges only the legality of an ordinance passed to correct errors in the new city council district map. In intervening, the secretary of state is looking for more direction than that.

Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map, wording that did not appear on the ballot — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. Elections to seat those new councils are this fall. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. The attorney general and others disagree, saying an election is the only way to make changes. A suit was filed in the 15th Judicial District last week to block the ordinance.

“It wouldn’t answer the questions that we needed to move forward,” Tyler Brey, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, tells me of the suit. Because the question before the court is limited to the legality of fixing the discrepancies by ordinance, a ruling may not say much about what to do next. Ardoin is looking to the court for “clarity” on how to solve the problem. “We need a step further to figure out exactly how to proceed,” Brey adds.

Ardoin doesn’t believe there “needs to be a whole scrapping” of the charter amendment vote. He says only holding another vote to amend the charter can correct the errors, a hardening of his previous deference to local authorities. That position is somewhat different from that of Attorney General Jeff Landry and the party who brought the suit against LCG in the first place, a contractor and council split opponent named Keith Kishbaugh. Both have said the result of the December vote must be thrown out and a new election called to create separate city and parish councils.

Time is starting to get critical,” Brey says. “We’re opening up qualifying in August. [Ardoin’s] position always has been that amending the charter is the best way to fix it.”

The attorney general’s office will represent the secretary of state in the matter, despite the apparent, and somewhat nuanced, difference in their positions. The AG issued a formal opinion that serves as the legal basis for the suit. The attorney general’s office says it will “refrain” from comment.

Ardoin punted the issue to Lafayette officials in February, saying the matter needs to be settled a month before qualifying. Brey insists, however, the more affirmative position represented by Ardoin’s intervention into the suit does not represent a shift in the secretary’s thinking.

Kishbaugh’s attorney says the errors make the whole election illegal. Lane Roy, who represents the parish council candidate and a cohort of other opponents, including conservative radio personality Carol Ross, argues the charter amendment proposition is one issue; therefore, the election must be thrown out. That same group also retained Roy to file an inquiry with LCG questioning the legality of replacing the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority with the City Council, an effect of the charter amendments.

“There’s only one proposal that went up for the vote,” Roy told me last week. “[The public] has to be able to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to the entire package.”

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