Council Preview 10/20: Funding LCG pay raises, City Council grows impatient, offloading parish parks and rent assistance

Illustration by Peter DeHart

The gist: This meeting presents several items at the root of recent confrontation between members of the City Council and mayor-president. Items addressing the council’s bid for independent legal representation, the ongoing LUS investigation and finding permanent leadership for it, LUS Fiber, parks and recreation and the police department are all on that agenda. Plus, the Parish Council is moving forward with a plan to offload parks. 

Take two on the last joint meeting/City Council meeting. Two weeks ago these meetings weren’t able to happen because the City Council lacked a quorum. So all the items from those two meetings roll forward to this week’s. For a more extensive look into those, check out the last Council Preview here.

The heat keeps rising in the battle over the City Council’s legal representation. Council members will vote on a resolution directing City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan to withdraw the city of Lafayette as the plaintiff in what is described as an “unauthorized lawsuit” filed to unseat the special counsel the City Council hired. Council members sought out their own attorney to navigate a budget dispute with the mayor-president and Logan. The administration has fought the council’s attempt to hire a special counsel at every turn. Logan first claimed the ordinance hiring Baton Rouge attorney Lea Anne Batson was illegal. Then Mayor-President Josh Guillory tried vetoing that ordinance. Then Logan tried firing her. And now he’s taking legal action. The whole situation is a mess that may require the courts to weigh in to resolve these legal issues. Though how the City Council is supposed to defend itself in court when the city-parish attorney won’t do so is unclear.

Some council members are getting impatient with Guillory. They’ve requested that the administration give reports on the status of the LUS audit and the filling of director positions for LUS, LUS Fiber, the police department, and the parks and recreation department. In recent weeks, news broke that despite Guillory’s repeated assertions that crimes have been committed as part of LUS’s potentially illegal subsidies of LUS Fiber, District Attorney Keith Stutes has sent two letters firmly stating that there are no prosecutable crimes. Additionally, the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which has sole authority to determine if there were any subsidies that broke state law, has not yet opened up any additional audits to determine the legality of these payments. Both LUS and LUS Fiber have been led by interim directors for two years, with the current “interim interim” directors in place for over a year. Despite repeated concerns by LUS’s consulting engineer over the qualifications of Lowell Duhon, LUS’s current interim interim director, Guillory has not publicly indicated that he has started the process of finding permanent leadership for either LUS or LUS Fiber. Meanwhile, Guillory’s search for a permanent police chief has gotten off to a rocky start, hindered at least in part by the pandemic (it was reopened to draw more candidates). And the parks and recreation department has been run by Guillory’s chief administrative officer, Cydra Wingerter, since May when the department’s longtime Director Gerald Boudreaux retired in part to protest Guillory’s push to cut that department’s budget in half. Boudreaux’s original interim replacement quit weeks later and took a job with Carencro’s Parks & Recreation Commission.

Help may be on the way for people struggling with paying their rent and utilities. The joint council will take a final vote on an ordinance to reallocate $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding and $300,000 in HOME Investment Partnership Program funding to give to Catholic Charities of Acadiana to help fund their efforts to provide tenant-based rental and utilities assistance. Statewide housing advocates have identified millions if not tens of millions in needs to help keep people in their homes in the midst of the worst economic downturn in at least a generation. But every dollar helps.

The parish may be washing its hands of most of its parks. Final agreements are in place and up for final adoption to hand responsibility for operating and maintaining Scott Park to the city of Scott, Carencro Park to the city of Carencro, Duson Park to the town of Duson, and Judice Park to Southwest Athletics Inc. To sweeten the deals, the Parish Council will give almost all of the $2 million that was rededicated to parish parks to these partners to provide funding to make improvements. Scott will get $642,000; Carencro will get $608,000; Duson will get $110,000; and Southwest Athletics Inc. will get $600,000. 

The city is doling out funding for external agencies, but no one’s getting what they asked for. At best, local nonprofits that requested funding are getting half of what they asked for. These grants include funding for both arts and culture and social service organizations. You can see the full list of requests and grants for both here

The City Council has also requested an update on the old federal courthouse redevelopment. Two years ago, the former City-Parish Council reached an agreement with a development group led by EJ Krampe to sell the old federal courthouse so that it could be turned into retail and apartments. While demolition of the interior of the old building has started, actual construction has been slow. Earlier this summer, Krampe’s group pursued changing the scope of the redevelopment to remove the retail component, though that didn’t go anywhere at that time. Technically, this project is supposed to be done and open for business early next year; otherwise, the City Council can start collecting late fees. It’s highly unlikely the deadline will be met. 

The joint council is voting on a resolution to try and rein in marathon meetings. If passed, the joint resolution would limit Parish Council meetings to 90 minutes, unless extended by up to 30 minutes by a majority vote, and would limit City Council meetings to four hours, unless extended by up to 30 minutes by a majority vote. No rules are proposed about the length of joint council meetings. It’s not clear what will happen when meetings encounter extensive public comment as has been happening repeatedly over the last few months. 

The Lafayette Parish Courthouse may get $300,000 to help pay for the last of its asbestos abatement efforts. Two floors of the building still have asbestos. While the $300,000 isn’t enough to pay for that work on its own, it will help get the courthouse closer to being asbestos-free. This money will be coming from the Courthouse Complex fund, which will have its fund balance zeroed out if the Parish Council passes this. That means if either the courthouse or the jail face any unexpected expenses next year, they’ll have to take money away from other capital projects that currently have money allocated but unspent.

The city has a variety of interesting items up for introduction. These include Guillory’s plan to allocate $10 million of federal CARES Act funding to establish a Police and Fire Sustainability and Resiliency Fund to help pay for state-mandated pay raises, a partnership to hand over responsibilities for maintaining the tennis facilities at Beaver Park and Thomas Park to the Acadiana Community Tennis Association, and a request to authorize Guillory to execute a pole attachment agreement with Link & Learn LLC, which is owned by the Schumacher Foundation. This pole attachment agreement will enable Link & Learn to deploy a new wireless network on the city’s electrical poles. Link & Learn has been working on developing a pilot to connect students to schools wirelessly for free.

Revisisting a 2% pay raise to LCG employees. This item is up for introduction. A similar ordinance failed to get introduced at an emergency joint council meeting two weeks ago, though at that meeting the City Council only had three members in attendance. So Councilwoman Liz Hebert’s “no” vote prevented it from being introduced. She expressed concern about restoring raises when both the city and parish still face so much economic uncertainty. Whether she’s changed her mind since then or another city council member will be in attendance to provide the third vote that’s needed to introduce this is not yet known.