Politicians are notorious for overpromising and under-delivering. Thursday’s Robideaux Report provides an opportunity to look back and assess how well Mayor-President Joel Robideaux delivered on the promises he made in last year’s address.
In 2018, Robideaux put a lot on his plate. He outlined how to move forward with new funds for CREATE and his parishwide drainage initiative, set a 2020 goal for making good on his no kill animal shelter campaign promise, primed conversations about the future of LUS and detailed further his vision of Lafayette as a smart city. Let’s not forget the show stopper: “crypteaux.”
While some of these promises require more than a single year to fulfill, and there’s likely more going on behind the scenes than we know, it’s still worth taking stock of the progress that’s public to date, especially in an election year.
To do this, I’m documenting the major promises he made and then assigning a letter grade (derived from my scientifically verified, patent-pending, quantitative scoring rubric) to assess how he’s delivered on them so far. The goal here is to grade the specific promises made at the last Robideaux Report, not to assess his performance as city-parish CEO overall.
If you missed last year’s remarks or want to see them again to refresh your memory, you can watch the report online here courtesy of Acadiana Open Channel.
The promise: Since introducing it during his 2017 address, Robideaux has repeatedly made claims about the financial promise of his CREATE initiative. He’s asserted that investing tax dollars into our cultural economy in Lafayette would create jobs, attract that mythical millennial talent and even stabilize our government’s budget. The specific deliverables he cited were the hosting of two music industry conferences, the launch of a community calendar aggregating cultural events, and the creation of an asset inventory platform that would make it easier to connect with local resources like artists and venues in our cultural economy.
The delivery: CREATE did help host those two music conferences, and it was also part of the team that recruited a boxing tournament to Youngsville, but Robideaux’s government failed to launch either the community calendar or the cultural asset inventory platform. The asset inventory received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this year, but there has been no update about when that project will launch or what it will look like or how it will work. It could take years to create jobs or attract millennial talent in any meaningful way. And in the case of stabilizing the budget, CREATE’s unlikely to move that needle for a long, long time. That’s because the only way CREATE could stabilize the parish budget is to increase taxable retail sales in unincorporated Lafayette Parish or raise property tax revenues through new development or an increase in the assessed value of existing real estate. Long-term, if CREATE’s successful in catalyzing the growth of Lafayette’s cultural economy, it could have a positive impact on the parish’s budget, but we can’t count on that happening any time soon.
The grade: C
By Robideaux’s own admission, CREATE only played a small role in attracting those music industry conferences. While CREATE got that grant for the asset inventory, it still failed to launch either of the tangible projects Robideaux announced. And he definitely overpromised when he claimed CREATE would help stabilize LCG’s budget.
Parishwide Drainage Initiative
The promise: In Robideaux’s first year in office, Lafayette was struck by some of the worst flooding in its history. At last year’s Robideaux Report he highlighted his strategy of pursuing a variety of small incremental steps that over time could have a larger impact on solving the significant problems our community faces in preventing floods in the future.
The delivery: Most of what Robideaux highlighted in last year’s speech were things that had happened the year prior. For example, he got the public to approve rededicating $9 million in one-time money and $2.5 million in annual funding from public health to drainage. He was part of a regional effort through the Acadiana Planning Commission to coordinate $25 million in regional flood mitigation money. He established new development codes that require real estate developments to hold more water. Since last year’s address, he’s had his Public Works Department embark on addressing 27 different deferred drainage maintenance projects — 96 percent of which are on budget, 100 percent of which are on schedule, according to their online dashboard.
The grade: B+
The only reason he didn’t earn full marks is that truly solving our area’s drainage problems long-term requires more than small incremental steps. Some estimates put the cost of any large-scale flood mitigation efforts in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And over the last year Robideaux has made no effort to engage the public in a dialogue about any larger plans or vision to address this. He did do a good job making forward progress, just not a great job tackling the bigger problems we face.
No-Kill Animal Shelter
The promise: Prior to last year’s address, Robideaux set the goal of achieving no-kill status for the Lafayette Animal Shelter by 2020. He reaffirmed that goal, updating that already through his efforts 77 percent of dogs and 49 percent of cats had live outcomes, up from 47 percent of dogs and 9 percent of cats at the start of his term.
The delivery: The Lafayette Animal Shelter adopted out more than 1,000 animals in 2018, up from 517 the year before Robideaux took office. And it recently rolled out a new program to hire feral cats, which aren’t traditionally adoptable, to provide rodent control services to properties in the parish. Achieving no-kill status means 90 percent live outcomes for cats and dogs. You can expect an update on that progress at this year’s Robideaux Report.
The grade: A
This has clearly been a top priority for Robideaux’s administration, and he’s achieved results, which has saved the lives of hundreds of animals.
The promise: Robideaux spoke strongly about the need to operate and manage Lafayette’s utility systems in innovative ways and to prepare for the future. He also talked about the need for a nimble approach to dealing with the production of energy in a constantly changing environment, especially as we decide what to do with LUS’s coal and natural gas plants. He suggested that we needed to find the money to upgrade the system and take advantage of 21st century energy technologies.
The delivery: Robideaux was laying the intellectual groundwork to justify his efforts to privatize LUS. A few months after he made these arguments, The Current broke the story that Robideaux had signed a letter of intent with Bernhard Capital Partners on a deal to privatize the management and revenues of LUS. He had engaged in closed-door discussions for over a year and even entertained pushing the deal forward without a public vote. Despite a charm offensive from Bernhard, the deal fell apart. Meanwhile, the affair spurred the early retirement of longtime LUS Director Terry Huval. Robideaux then proposed a salary of $150,000 for Huval’s replacement, only for LUS’s consultants to find that amount woefully insufficient to attract a qualified candidate. By all accounts, interim Director Jeff Stewart has performed well in maintaining LUS’s quality of service, but there are still more questions than answers at LUS today than there were a year ago.
The grade: F
In many ways, 2018 was a lost year for LUS. Robideaux didn’t engage the public or the council in a serious dialogue about the possibility of privatizing any or all of LUS. And since then he has provided no leadership about what should happen next with our city’s largest public asset.
The promise: Robideaux introduced a series of applications and initiatives under the umbrella of turning Lafayette into a smart city, a buzzword describing cities that embrace technology and innovation to improve government or quality of life. He claimed these efforts weren’t meant to just get headlines but to create tangible improvements in how LCG operated. And he committed to implementing them in a systematic way to maximize their impact.
The delivery: LCG launched Dial 311 and the ability to text 911, but the Hub of Lafayette and Gnome Nation apps he unveiled are underwhelming. LUS Fiber launched a 10Gbps service for $295/month and expanded marketing efforts to Broussard and Youngsville. But there are still many who live in the city of Lafayette in apartments and condos who can’t get fiber service. Robideaux’s office participated in producing a smart city roadmap as LUS had hired IBM and KPMG to create a list of 80 smart city projects Lafayette could pursue, but he failed to deliver on the promise of creating an interactive dashboard for LUS. Robideaux led a team at a Smart Cities conference in Ohio to pitch a regional transportation project that featured a hyperloop.
The grade: C-
Robideaux has hamstrung his smart city ambitions by failing to find a permanent IT director or CIO. Any local government that aspires to not just participate in smart city efforts but to achieve Robideaux’s vision requires technical leadership. While Robideaux gets credit for ambition and making some progress, his government is still a ways off from delivering on the promise of his vision.
The promise: Robideaux announced his intention to mint a Lafayette cryptocurrency, “crypteaux,” and use the coin to finance building a living lab of blockchain researchers and developers to create solutions that target government inefficiencies and find new ways to fund our public infrastructure. He claimed that this idea received enthusiastic responses across the country at conferences he attended, and that this was a real opportunity for Lafayette to capitalize on its resources to become a global innovation hub.
The delivery: A few months after this announcement, Robideaux shepherded the creation of a new public trust called the Lafayette Public Innovation Alliance, tasked with fostering a software development ecosystem. When asked directly by council member Bruce Conque if this had anything to do with crypteaux, Robideaux claimed it didn’t. Then, in the fall, Robideaux’s longtime political campaign consultant Joe Castille gave a presentation at the Opportunity Machine’s Innovation Conference where he outed himself and his company Crypto Research as the real visionaries behind crypteaux. In January at the Innovation Alliance’s first meeting, Robideaux was installed as chairman (a five-year term) and spent the majority of the meeting discussing how to leverage cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies to fund the trust’s efforts. He called upon Castille to share Joe’s vision and lead part of the discussion, though Robideaux did not disclose that Castille was his paid political consultant or that Castille had a company that is developing intellectual property around the ideas that underpin Robideaux’s vision. There has only been one meeting of the trust to date with the next meeting scheduled to happen sometime in late March.
The grade: D+
After garnering international headlines from his announcement of crypteaux at last year’s Robideaux Report, public progress on this initiative has been negligible. Meanwhile, the total value of cryptocurrencies has declined dramatically, falling from around $270 billion during last year’s Robideaux Report to approximately $135 billion heading into this year’s. It’s possible Robideaux’s gambit missed the window of opportunity. A trust member publicly doubted the rosiness of Castille’s vision of attracting investors. The unknown keeps this effort from a failing grade. So much about crypteaux is shrouded that it’s hard to fully gauge where it’s going.
Overall Grade: C
Here’s a snapshot of the scorecard for how well the mayor-president delivered on the promises he made at the last Robideaux Report:
|Smart City Technologies||C-|
If I were Robideaux’s teacher and his performance as mayor-president this past year were a school assignment, the feedback I’d give him is that he needs to spend less time promising and more time delivering.
He didn’t need to overpromise CREATE’s potential, or upend LUS’s status quo, or make big promises about smart cities and cryptocurrencies all in the same year, and certainly not in consecutive years.
But he did, and as a result he shined a bright light on the significant gap that exists between his vision and reality.