The gist: In an at-times barbed response to the committee reviewing Lafayette’s form of government, Mayor-President Josh Guillory argues the city of Lafayette has thrived under consolidation, attempting to upend contentions that the arrangement has been unfair. He calls the current split-council form of government a disaster and characterizes the committee’s work as a political agitation.
Get caught up, quickly: The Protect the City Committee was appointed to study what the city of Lafayette gets out of consolidated government. City Councilman Pat Lewis spearheaded creation of the group after a series of political dustups with the Guillory administration over the city’s budget and legal autonomy. At the council’s request, Guillory submitted a document outlining his responses to questions guiding the committee’s review of consolidation.
Read Guillory’s full response here.
Guillory calls consolidation a “financial win” for the city of Lafayette. He points to growth driven by annexations in the last two and half decades as proof, defending consolidation as an “engine” for the city’s prosperity. Annexations of unincorporated areas have long been blamed for shrinking tax revenues for parish government. Guillory further claims that deconsolidation would increase administrative costs. Whether consolidation has saved money or increased costs is at the heart of the issue. It has certainly failed to improve the parish government’s financial standing. In summarizing his position, he warns that splitting up consolidated government would be “detrimental” to city taxpayers.
“The civic leaders of Lafayette were absolutely right more than 30 years ago when they envisioned consolidation as a way to ensure a stronger parish and create a powerful engine for the growth of the city,” he writes.
Annexations grew the city’s land area by 20%, roughly 10 square miles since 1995, his report claims. Other municipalities have gobbled up land along the way, too. And Guillory’s report is silent about that. Youngsville has been among the fastest growing municipalities in the state for the last 30 years, more than doubling its land area, according to U.S. census data.
Correlation does not equal causation, critics have already pointed out in comments on Guillory’s campaign Facebook page. “Deconsolidation would decouple the engine that has spurred Lafayette’s growth in land area, sales tax revenue, ILOT payments, and general fund balance,” Guillory writes in the response. Challenged on that point on Facebook, he says he was simply making an “illustration.”
Fundamentally, he faults political grievances for the drive to deconsolidate. He reprises disputes over budgeting, the new taxing districts pushed by City Council members — in particular Liz Hebert, Nanette Cook and Pat Lewis, who served on the old consolidated council — and the spat over the City Council retaining legal representation.
“This is a legitimate difference of political philosophy,” he writes. “But it’s not a reason to change a form of government. Such a mindset would justify changing our government anytime there was a political difference between the executive and the legislative branches, and that’s just unworkable.”
Guillory blames the Charter amendments for the City Council’s loss of budget control. This issue came to a head in 2020 over funding for cultural services, which are paid for primarily by city dollars but also overseen by the Parish Council. The City Council balked at his cuts but ultimately approved an austere budget, folding up its own power to block cuts by voting down the budget. (Both the city and parish councils must approve the consolidated budget.) Guillory argues the charter amendments robbed the city of control by diluting its representation on the Parish Council.
“Those truly interested in protecting the city, might consider going back to the City-Parish Council form of government,” he writes.
Consolidation isn’t the problem; it’s the people agitating for change, Guillory argues. Calling voters and Charter amendment proponents “confused,” he characterizes the enterprise of “protecting the city” as misguided. Addressing the committee’s review of LUS, he says the City Council has ignored long-standing problems at the utility and at Fiber. In a possible jab at Councilwoman Hebert, who has pushed back fiercely at the administration’s LUS inquiry, he claims an unnamed council member worked to “improperly influence” regulators on the Public Service Commission, which oversees LUS Fiber.
“Since I have never ‘actively attempted to improperly influence official actions of regulators,’ I don’t believe that this is directed towards me,” Hebert says. “Also, I would believe that if it were, the Administration or legal team would have reached out to me directly with their concerns. I haven’t received word from either.”
Political reality check: Guillory has a political incentive to oppose deconsolidation. It reverses Guillory’s position as a candidate, a fact that he acknowledges in the report. Voters outside city limits were his strongest base of support during his 2019 campaign. But any real push for deconsolidation would face a high bar to get on the ballot. The proposal would need to win over four out of the five Parish Council members before it could be put to a general election.
What to watch for: How the M-P’s response impacts the committee and the larger community conversation about consolidation. Previous campaigns to change Lafayette’s government have been lopsided, with one side or the other dominating political action in terms of funding and organization. Should deconsolidation hit the ballot again, campaigns supporting and opposing the measure are both likely to be organized.