Lafayette’s new mayor-president has her work cut out for her. When Monique Blanco Boulet takes office in January, she’s going to face an array of challenges.
Not only does she have to handle all the normal responsibilities of the position, but she also has to deal with untold investigations into her predecessor from local, state and federal agencies; too many lawsuits of all shapes and sizes both filed by and against LCG; a number of large-scale and potentially half-baked public works projects in various stages of development. And who knows what else she’ll find when she gets the power to pull back the curtain on what’s really been going on the last four years.
It’ll literally be impossible to deal with everything at first. The elephant Josh Guillory created is too large to eat all at once. So her next few months are going to be all about deciding what to prioritize. To that end, I wanted to share what I believe to be the most pressing issues that need her attention immediately.
If you want to share your own opinions about what her priorities should be, add them in the comments to this column and/or submit them on her transition site. Now is a great time for anyone who cares about Lafayette to get involved and to make your voice heard.
Without further adieu, here’s what I think Monique should prioritize as she starts to eat Josh’s elephant in January.
Do something, anything, about corruption
Boulet ran a campaign against corruption, repeatedly highlighting soon-to-be-former Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s shady behavior. Now that she’s in power, what is she going to do about the corruption she and others have alleged?
It’s actually a tough question to answer. No one wants her first year in office to be embroiled in backward-looking investigations. It can be a huge distraction from moving the community forward.
But at the same time, if there was actual corruption going on, we can’t afford to ignore and sweep it under the rug.
Politically this is an extremely tough issue to navigate. Boulet ideally needs to win over the hearts and minds of the 48% of Lafayette voters who wanted another four years of Guillory. Embarking on what might be seen as a witch hunt could turn them even more against her.
But if she doesn’t make any outward efforts to address the corruption she ran against, she risks her supporters losing faith in her. That would raise serious questions about whether she’s an agent of change or just more of the same.
Walk the talk on transparency
This should be an easy one. Boulet promised to run a transparent government. If that’s the case, she should promptly restore free access by the public to electronic public records that our tax dollars pay for.
As pressure built on the Guillory administration over its questionable actions, its response was to unilaterally impose a $1-per-page fee to email copies of public records. Then Guillory’s lawyers limited public access to review public records to a tiny room on the top of the district courthouse where no phones or cameras were allowed, other than the ones they installed to surveil anyone accessing these records. This was cartoon-villain level obfuscation.
Our tax dollars paid for the creation of these records. The public should have ready to access to them for free.
The only justification for this draconian policy was avoiding the cost of handling the increased volume of public records requests. But the only real reason these costs were increasing so much is because of how much legal scrutiny the Guillory administration was paying to review each request.
Legal review is an administrative choice. Boulet can simply loosen that legal oversight for some records and save hundreds of thousands of dollars while following through on her big talk of transparency.
Settle as many lawsuits as possible
I’m not a lawyer so this may be a horrible legal strategy. But I really think she needs to go on an apology tour for all of these lawsuits up in the air.
There are multiple cases pending surrounding the St. Martin spoil banks project alone. St. Martin Parish government sued LCG, in part for violating its laws. And a landowner sued for violating his property rights. Plus, we’re under investigation by multiple federal agencies for breaking laws and regulations on that project.
The last four years LCG’s legal strategy has been based on bluster and bullying. We’ve given so many individuals and entities no other option but to fight us full force in court.
Lafayette can’t afford to continue lighting so much money on fire at the altar of politicians’ hubris. Boulet can deploy a more nuanced approach by backing down from her predecessor’s actions, and trying to settle these lawsuits, thereby avoiding the risk of larger judgments.
Reconsider every major infrastructure project
You can’t say Guillory wasn’t ambitious. The number and scale of infrastructure projects he threw into the ether is staggering.
There are the superparks at Moore Park, Brown Park and Heymann Park and the indoor sports facility at Beaullieu Park; the new City Court building with new Downtown parking garages; the new jail; the new performing arts center; and the mega-drainage projects like the Homewood ponds. Not to mention several Downtown infrastructure projects and road extensions throughout the parish.
I’m not confident there’s been a proper cost-benefit analysis done for any of these projects. Nor do we really have a handle on what the potential long-term unfunded operations and maintenance liabilities could be for any of them.
My hope is that Boulet pumps the brakes on most, if not all, of them and seriously reconsiders whether they’re worth continuing to pursue. Can we actually afford to build all of these given their actual costs? Do we have real business plans for how much they’re going to cost to operate? Can we afford any ongoing subsidies that might be required? Are the potential benefits of these projects worth the squeeze of what it’s going to take to build and maintain them?
It’s a productive analysis even for projects with so much cost already sunk into them, like the Homewood ponds. If UL’s researchers were right and those ponds will have virtually no impact on preventing flooding, why would we spend any more money completing them? Instead, we might be better off figuring out how to cut our losses and do something else with that property.
It’s important that everyone remember nothing is set in stone. Every project can be canceled or altered significantly. And all of the money that was earmarked for these projects that hasn’t already been spent can be redirected to other projects that will deliver a greater return on investment for our community.
None of these are sacred cows that should be considered fait accompli.
There’s so much more …
I was going to keep adding to this list, but I’ve already reached a word count where I can feel Christiaan Mader’s editorial noose closing around my neck. Boulet’s to-do list is much, much larger.
Because I haven’t even talked about the need for her to figure out how to stabilize the Lafayette Police Department after four years of unprecedented instability. Or what to do about LUS Fiber’s haphazard growth strategy and mismanagement. Or the fact that the parish still can’t afford its basic obligations, like providing and paying for adequate fire protection in unincorporated Lafayette. And that’s all before she has to deal with generational challenges like diversifying our economy or making our community more attractive to young people.
It’ll be interesting to see what Boulet publicly prioritizes. Hopefully, she’ll set an aggressive but sustainable pace. There’s too much to get done to afford a leisurely ramp up. On the other hand, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have miles to go before we get our government back on track.