Where her predecessor and erstwhile opponent made a splash within days of taking office, Mayor-President Monique Blanco Boulet is entering with a calculated ripple.
As her first month atop Lafayette Consolidated Government ends, the new mayor-president’s only major headline has been her decision to nix the Guillory administration’s deal to move City Court. In an interview with The Current this week, she said that’s by design.
Chief among the first goals for the new mayor-president is building out her leadership team at Lafayette Consolidated Government. Filling key roles with competent leaders “is not an easy task,” she says, and will be her primary goal in the first months of her administration.
“I think the greatest accomplishment I can have is really to put the right people in place for the next four years so that everything else we do is done with credibility at a high level with the most impactful goals in mind,” Boulet says.
Rocky personnel moves characterized unseated M-P Josh Guillory’s first few weeks on the job. He made headlines for pushing out former Police Chief Toby Aguillard on day one and parting ways with his first CAO after just a week in office.
“It’s much harder to put the wrong people in place and then have to deal with the repercussions of that for endless amounts of time, than to just start out right with strong leaders,” Boulet adds.
The new mayor-president has so far ousted roughly a dozen top advisers and directors from Guillory’s administration, though she is yet to find replacements for three crucial departments: Public Works, Community Development & Planning, and LUS Fiber.
The impact of her first new appointment, returning City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger, was immediately clear at the City Council’s first meeting in January, where veteran Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux probed Ottinger on the controversial disempowerment of the council that Guillory’s city-parish attorney, Greg Logan, had stubbornly enforced. Ottinger’s response dissolved the issue in one breath.
“My loyalty and my duty is to the government as opposed to, quite frankly, anybody sitting in this room at the moment,” he told the council.
The change reflects another early goal for the new mayor-president: repairing the administration’s relationship with the City Council. Conflict with that council was a hallmark of Guillory’s term, but Boulet says she is “very encouraged” by conversations with City Council members and their interest in tackling difficult issues right out of the gate. Addressing the city zoning code’s impact on affordable housing is one example.
“I want to see this in partnership with the council. The administration creates the footwork, right, the capacity to get things done. But it needs to be done in connection with everybody’s priorities,” she says. “We’re all faced with this. They’re faced with the housing crunch also. So, where they have levels of interest, they are welcomed in. And so far, we seem to be able to enter complex issues together.”
Guillory’s proposed relocation of City Court to the Lemoine building Downtown presented one such issue in Boulet’s first handful of days at City-Parish Hall. Her decision to cancel the deal to buy and renovate the building, at an estimated cost of $16 million, was abrupt, but it was backed by Boudreaux, whose district covers the area. Boulet says the project had too much financial uncertainty for the city to move forward, and that’s a trend she says her administration is discovering with many other holdover projects as well.
“One of the things that caught me off guard is that the financial implications of many of the projects and decisions have not really been worked out,” she says. “That’s one of the most urgent things for us to do: find the good parts of each project that we want to carry forward and then understand the financial implications.”
Boulet is also poised to tack differently with Lafayette’s remaining allocation of time-sensitive coronavirus relief funds. Guillory had moved to shuffle some $28 million between larger infrastructure projects and routine maintenance operations. Both the City and Parish councils punted that plan to February at her administration’s request, though the Parish Council is moving ahead with a revised plan for its $10 million portion.
Finding the best possible use of those funds before the Dec. 31 federal deadline to have them effectively spent — and figuring out how to use the local funds they would replace — ranks as the new mayor-president’s most urgent priority for the near future.
“We have a lot of funding right now, ARPA funding, capital outlay funding, so making sure we have the priorities online, making sure those projects have real deliverables that have the maximum benefit,” she says. “I think that’s the most urgent.”