Columnist Geoff Daily explores Lafayette’s economy and government, providing critical commentary about what’s working and what’s not.

COLUMN: City Council’s investigation isn’t ‘political theater’ — it’s democracy

City Council
Photo by Travis Gauthier

Mayor-President Josh Guillory calling an investigation “political theater” is a funny way to show “respect” for the process, which was jump-started by the City Council this week. 

Putting aside the obvious pettiness, the bigger issue here is how Guillory has repeatedly disrespected the process for how local government is supposed to operate. It’s the very reason the City Council needed to conduct this investigation in the first place: to exercise its oversight authority over a seemingly out-of-control administration. 

This investigation isn’t political theater. It’s our democracy in action.

Unsurprisingly, Guillory’s doing everything he can to redefine the narrative. By dismissing it as petty politics. By claiming the investigation was his idea. By shaming the council about spending $100,000 to investigate $100 million worth of public spending. By continuing to purport transparency while refusing to answer questions from the council or the press. 

His actions speak so much louder than his words. A reminder of how we got here: 

In early June, the City Council requested the administration answer a lengthy and detailed list of questions about the various drainage projects that have landed LCG in court and potentially wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. But Guillory refused to answer any of the questions, claiming that he and his staff were too busy, and suggested the council pursue an independent audit. 

If he’d at least made a half-hearted attempt to answer some of the questions, this investigation may not be happening right now. But instead he chose to obstruct the inquiry, forcing the council’s hand.

Now the council has called his bluff. And he’s got the audacity to ding them for wasting tax dollars. (How did he expect them to fund the audit he called for?) 

We’ve reached the point where the Council has no choice but to investigate Guillory’s reckless drainage spending. Here’s a running list of the legal and regulatory minefield Guillory has dragged LCG into: 

  • Local permitting violations
  • Federal permitting violations 
  • Public bid law violations 
  • Federal environmental protection violations 
  • Noncompliance with federal procurement regulations 
  • Violating private property rights
  • Illegally purchasing property
  • Substantial civil liability 

And that’s just the legal ramifications. This administration has made a series of bad policy decisions on these project too:

  • Lying to St. Martin Parish about LCG’s actions and intent, likely hurting our credibility for years to come
  • Paying enormous sums of money on projects of dubious value 
  • Flagrantly disregarding checks and balances on the mayor-president’s authority 

All of these mistakes cost city taxpayers money in legal fees, fines and settlements. There’s a universe where LCG pays millions to put dirt it dug up back where it came from. 

Honestly, the magnitude and multitude of problems on the Cypress Island spoil banks controversy alone warrants an investigation. But the millions wasted on this project are small potatoes compared to the mountains of money at risk elsewhere.

The state is withholding $22 million in reimbursements because LCG paid a contractor to dig ponds on land not owned by LCG. If LCG can’t get paid back, it could blow gaping holes in the city’s budget and the parish’s budget. 

But even that’s not Guillory’s most costly mistake. That honor goes to the ponds on Homewood Drive, a $41 million boondoggle that likely won’t prevent flooding.

Guillory has misrepresented the science on the project, telling the councils twice that UL’s engineers have endorsed it. They haven’t. Rather than supporting Homewood, UL engineers wrote in a memo this year that the ponds “are not expected to bring tangible benefits in terms of reducing flood losses along the river.” 

So Guillory either misrepresented or misunderstood the memo, or he never read it. That’s the opposite of transparency. It’s either intentional obfuscation or gross negligence. 

Regardless, what’s so frightening about Homewood isn’t just that we may be spending tens of millions on ponds that won’t stop flooding. It’s that they may cost even more to not get built at all. 

The project’s currently on hold as Guillory’s expropriation was ruled unlawful. If LCG loses that case on appeal, the city and parish will be on the hook for tens of millions more to compensate the landowners with no ponds to show for it.

Again, any of these projects individually justify an investigation. But together, the council had to move forward with figuring out just how deep of a hole Guillory has dug for LCG. And to clearly understand what may have been done illegally. It’s their job to do so. 

It’s likely going to get ugly. Because Guillory has bristled at even the council’s gentlest attempts at exercising its oversight duties.

It’s unfortunate that we’ve reached this point. But thankfully the City Council has taken a huge step toward forcing transparency and accountability on an out-of-control administration. That’s a win for democracy.