Council Preview 9/15: Overriding mayor’s veto of a lawyer for the City Council, money for rental assistance, controversial “no standing” law

The gist: While Tuesday’s meetings shouldn’t hit marathon status, there’s still a lot to cover including some brewing controversies: a parishwide “no standing” ordinance fought by advocates for the homeless and the ACLU, a proposal to spend $3.5 million in parish dollars to fix a dilapidated garage, and a public hearing for 16 different properties whose owners are protesting their assessed values. 

The City Council will also hold another special meeting to vote on overriding the mayor-president’s veto of its push to hire special counsel. Earlier this year, City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan told the City Council if there were ever a legal dispute between either the City Council or Parish Council and the Mayor-President, he would represent the mayor-president and not the councils. Now, in response to the City Council trying to hire its own special counsel to represent the city’s interests related to what control the City Council has over city dollars, Mayor-President Guillory is essentially claiming the council can’t do that without his permission. The ordinance to hire the special counsel passed by a 3-1 vote with Glenn Lazard absent for medical reasons. To override Guillory’s veto, the City Council needs four votes. It’s been reported by the Advertiser that a legal precedent has been set that could allow Lazard to vote remotely.

The “no standing” ordinance is back on the docket for final adoption. When this ordinance was first put up for consideration, there was significant pushback from housing and homelessness advocates, who argued it unfairly targeted some of Lafayette’s most vulnerable population in the middle of a housing crisis. Guillory’s administration claims the ordinance isn’t about homelessness; rather, that it targets “congestion” in public spaces, specifically from people begging in medians and on sidewalks and sign spinners. Others have pointed out that the ordinance is overly broad and could infringe on the public’s First Amendment rights and use of the public space. It has already caught the attention of the ACLU and a major journalism association.

$400,000 to tenant-based rental and utilities assistance. The joint councils will vote on shifting $100,000 originally set aside for the Lafayette Business Recovery grant program, which has failed to get off the ground quickly. The rest comes from existing housing funds. Catholic Charities of Acadiana would receive and distribute the funds through its established program. 

A number of property owners want the Parish Council to change the assessed value of their properties. Some of these are large corporations like Walmart and CVS. Walmart is asking to reduce the assessed value of its stores on Pinhook and Ambassador from $26.7 million to $24.5 million. CVS is requesting the assessed value of six of its stores be reduced from $15.8 million to $12 million. According to their applications, both corporations are being represented by third party companies that make their living helping large property owners lower their tax obligations. Some of these are locally owned properties. Judging how much properties are worth is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but every property owner the Parish Council sides with will mean less money available to fund the parish’s services, not just for LCG but also the Lafayette Parish School System and the Lafayette Sheriff, among others. 

$3.5 million to fix the Buchanan garage in Downtown Lafayette. Mayor-President Guillory proposed spending $3.5 million from the courthouse complex’s $3.8 million fund balance to repair and reopen the Buchanan Garage, which was shut down two years ago. The item was deferred for two weeks due to concerns about the impact of zeroing out this courthouse complex fund, which is used to pay for the operations and maintenance of both the district courthouse and the parish jail. If both this item and a measure to appropriate $300,000 more to the sheriff for jailer services passes, there will be no more money left in that fund, which could be a problem.

Another unincorporated property owner wants city water without paying city taxes. At a City Council meeting in August, there was an extended discussion about a request to provide water to 4 Eureka Plantation Road, which is located on an island of unincorporated Lafayette that’s surrounded by the city. The gist of that discussion was whether the city should force properties like that to annex and start paying city taxes if they want city water. While there was a lot of talk, ultimately the City Council approved the request. Now it faces the same decision with a request for water service from 507 Crestlawn Drive, which is in unincorporated Lafayette despite being encircled by the city. Will this be the point where the City Council finally draws a line in the sand?

The city’s transit department is getting $7.1 million from the CARES Act. The Guillory administration will use the federal grant to operate Lafayette Transit System for the next two years. His proposed budget zeroes out the city general fund appropriations used to run the city’s buses and paratransit services. 

The City Council is holding an emergency meeting to fix the Verot School Road sewer lift station. It will vote to appropriate $1.3 million to install a permanent bypass pumping system as the current one failed catastrophically, and the temporary bypass that was put in place doesn’t have the capacity to handle the increased flow of water during large rain events.

They will also vote on a resolution to designate Kolder, Slaven & Company as LCG’s independent auditor. Normally, this would be a formality as this company has performed LCG’s audits for years. The only thing that’s different this year is that the investigative auditor hired to dig into LUS’s potentially illegal subsidies to LUS Fiber has accused Kolder, Slaven & Company of turning a blind eye to this decade-long pricing scheme.

Schools may get better signage and lighting at crosswalks. The joint councils will vote to approve a collaborative endeavor agreement with the Lafayette Parish School System to receive money from the schools for LCG to use to improve school crosswalks.