Suit filed to overturn ordinance fixing charter errors

The gist: A suit was filed against Lafayette Consolidated Government in district court asking that an ordinance passed to fix discrepancies in the new city council district map be overturned. Observers have long expected the dispute over the council split would land in court.

Continue 4 min read

Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map, wording that did not appear on the ballot — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. The attorney general and others disagree, saying an election is the only way to make changes. 

A council candidate named Keith Kishbaugh is serving as lead plaintiff for a group of charter split opponents, including KPEL radio personality Carol Ross. Kishbaugh, who runs Kishbaugh Construction, has declared his candidacy for consolidated District 1, the seat presently held by Kevin Naquin. Should the split councils remain, he would pursue a District 1 seat on the newly formed Parish Council; Naquin is running for the District 2 parish seat.

Kishbaugh tells me he believes the charter amendments, passed in December, were pushed by an "interest group" and remain deeply unpopular among voters. A key grievance of Kishbaugh's is what he characterizes as the "arrogance" shown by some City-Parish Council members in defying Attorney General Jeff Landry, who issued an opinion last week saying only an election could fix the errors in legal descriptions of the city council districts.

"I think it needs to be re-voted on," Kishbaugh says. "I firmly believe the people behind it — [council members] Castille, Naquin, Conque, Hebert and, unfortunately, Nanette Cook — they have a fear of this being revoted because, if it's a landslide in the opposite direction, it could hurt their political aspirations."

The suit will be heard soon. Attorney Lane Roy says civil procedure requires that suits concerning election matters be expedited and heard between two and 10 days of filing. Roy says the issue is "pretty doggone clear," arguing the attorney general's opinion, which forms the basis of the suit, dispenses of the lengthy argument offered by City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott that an ordinance is the most appropriate way to readjust the boundaries. The suit was assigned to Judge John Trahan.

Roy says the errors make the whole election illegal, arguing the charter amendment proposition is one issue. The group also retained Roy to file an inquiry with LCG questioning the legality of replacing the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority with the City Council, an effect of the charter amendments. The end game is to throw out the December election result.

"There's only one proposal that went up for the vote," Roy tells me. "[The public] has to be able to say 'yea' or 'nay' to the entire package."

The secretary of state previously said only the errors should be the subject a vote. The argument that the errors invalidate the entire charter amendment election is a new one and contradicts, to some extent, comments made by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin after a meeting with state and City-Parish attorneys in February.

To be clear, overturning the ordinance would not necessarily overturn the election. What's not clear is how opponents could accomplish it, and that question is not in the petition itself.

Charter amendment supporters have worried that a legal challenge would not materialize until much later in the campaign cycle, potentially postponing the elections for new city and parish councils.

"We're grateful that we're gonna go ahead and hear this now and not three months from now," says Kevin Blanchard, an organizer with Fix the Charter PAC.

You can read the suit here.

This is a developing story.

2 Comment(s)

When up is down in Lafayette’s retail sector

Lafayette’s retail sales are on the rise after a string of bad years. But we still have a long way to go.

Continue 11 min read
2 Comment(s)

His sentencing delayed, Pope due back in court Thursday

The gist: District Judge David Smith granted suspended City Marshal Brian Pope’s request for a delay in his sentencing until a full transcript of the marshal’s 2018 trial can be obtained. The embattled marshal returns to court Thursday to face 17 more felony charges.

Continue 3 min read
0 Comment(s)

Crypteaux absent, Opportunity Zones top of mind for second innovation trust meeting

The gist: Still in its infancy, the Lafayette Public Innovation Alliance, created by the mayor-president to kickstart Lafayette’s pivot to technology, is working to find its way. Opportunity Zones could figure prominently in the trust’s work.

Continue 3 min read

Get caught up, quickly: LPIA is a public trust created by M-P Joel Robideaux and voted into existence by the City-Parish Council last summer to nurture the growth of software development and innovation in Lafayette Parish. It had its first meeting in January and held its second last month. The mayor-president has embraced the technology sector as an economic driver for the region. The LPIA is his vehicle for pursuing these aspirations.

LPIA aims to drive adoption and use of federal Opportunity Zones. Opportunity Zones are part of a new federal tax incentive program that provides preferential capital gains tax treatment to money invested in “Opportunity Funds” that invest in these zones. Lafayette’s zones include the Oil Center, Downtown and portions of the University Avenue corridor. It’s not clear yet what specific role LPIA will take in achieving the goal, but at a minimum Robideaux wants the organization to be a champion for these efforts.

Lafayette (sort of) has an innovation district now. While there’s been no formal proclamation, Robideaux has positioned LPIA to create an innovation district that overlays those opportunity zones. An innovation district is an urban development strategy to regenerate underperforming areas to be more desirable to innovation companies and workers. The thinking here is to stack incentives and programming by adding an innovation district over the same footprint. It’s not clear yet what this designation actually changes other than reinforcing the intent of Robideaux’s focus on catalyzing growth in these areas through technology.

No discussion of Crypteaux. Since its inception, the LPIA has been connected to Crypteaux, the mayor-president’s pitch to create a municipal cryptocurrency for Lafayette and transform our community into a living lab for blockchain technologies. Crypteaux figured heavily into the LPIA’s first meeting agenda, which included an at-length discussion of using cryptocurrency as an investment vehicle of sorts to fund LPIA ambitions. Notably, Crypteaux was not part of the March meeting’s agenda.

No plans for staffing, yet. There was at one time talk of a potential agreement with UL (Ramesh Kolluru, UL’s VP of Research, sits on the LPIA) to provide staffing until LPIA could pay for its own. But members decided to postpone discussing a staffing plan until funding is secured.

Starting work on a mission. One major discussion item was working to define LPIA’s mission in a way that helps the public really understand what the organization does. LPIA is eyeing an event this fall to tie together a variety of other innovation and technology-centric events like the Opportunity Machine’s Innovation Conference and CajunCodeFest.

Why this matters? Lafayette has to replace the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs lost in its economy since 2014. Technology and software businesses offer some of the greatest potential to do that. Given that LPIA has set out to help attract and grow those businesses, there’s a lot riding on the success of this venture.

0 Comment(s)

Candidates are launching campaigns, and it’s not clear there will be a city council to run for

The gist: Candidates are peppering inboxes with announcement releases for the new Lafayette City Council, but it remains unclear whether the elections will go on. Overtures from state officials leave open the possibility that Lafayette will not seat two new councils this fall.

Continue 5 min read
0 Comment(s)

Firing back at ‘misinformation,’ AG Landry attacks LCG attorneys on charter errors

The gist: Conflicting opinions between the attorney general and city-parish attorneys have come to verbal blows. In a press release issued Thursday, Landry doubles down on his office’s rapid-fire opinion and takes shots at the local legal team’s competence.

Continue 3 min read

Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. Landry disagrees, saying an election is the only way to make changes.

“It is important to always note that this problem arose after taking the City Attorney’s original advice.” That’s how Landry concludes the terse release, purported to “clarify” the AG’s opinion on the charter errors. He calls LCG attorneys’ 11-page memo, which determines an ordinance is the “only appropriate” fix for the charter discrepancies, an attempt by the “City Attorney” to “correct his own mistake.”

Read Landry's release here.

City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott raised questions about the turnaround speed of the AG opinion. He noted at a council meeting Tuesday night that the opinion's language looks similar to a letter from a state senator requesting it. The AG opinion was delivered within 24 hours of the request's receipt, a lightning fast turnaround according to some legal observers. Landry credited quick service to his staff's preparedness on the issue.

Landry views the issue as “cut and dried.” It’s not clear that it is. Issued hours before the City-Parish Council passed an ordinance correcting the discrepancies, the AG's opinion does not address glaring problems with resolving the errors by election, the remedy that office recommends. Some charter language prohibits reapportionment “by referendum,” and rules out voting on the same amendment twice in the same year. Then there’s the practical concern that voters may vote “no” on the corrected legal descriptions and leave the parish without legal districts to qualify for voting.

Curiously, the opinion suggests that reapportionment, the process by which districts and precincts are redrawn in response to population changes, can never be performed by ordinance because the districts are enshrined the Home Rule Charter. Since consolidation, the city-parish council has adjusted its boundaries by ordinance several times, a practice that’s common around the state.

In a radio interview recorded Wednesday, Landry wondered whether a vote would be necessary for reapportionment after the next census. Both the current and amended forms of the Home Rule Charter specifically provide that the council can move boundaries by ordinance. The AG’s rigid legal view holds that every such change is an amendment, and would thus require a public vote.

How does this play out from here? There’s a tangle of outcomes, and most of them end up in court. Someone could sue LCG and claim the ordinance violates the law, and it appears that such threats are legitimate. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin could refuse to qualify candidates from the amended districts; a spokesman for his office said Wednesday Ardoin and his legal team are weighing their options.

3 Comment(s)

LED is helping CGI tempt Baton Rouge talent to Lafayette

The gist: On Saturday, March 30, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Louisiana Economic Development is hosting a career fair in Baton Rouge to help CGI fill the 400 new jobs the consulting giant is creating in Lafayette.

Continue 2 min read
0 Comment(s)

Council bucks the AG, and now we’re all waiting for a lawsuit

The gist: Opinions issued by LCG’s legal team and the attorney general on how to fix the charter errors are irreconcilable. The council sided with city-parish attorneys, raising the specter of litigation, which seemed pre-ordained regardless.

Continue 4 min read

Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. The attorney general’s office disagreed, saying an election is the only way to make changes. The council approved a reapportionment ordinance fixing the issues by a 6-3 vote Tuesday night, with councilmen Pat Lewis, Jared Bellard and William Theriot voting against it. Now we’re waiting for some mysterious litigant to appear.

Not to overburden the point but these two opinions can’t be more opposite. The AG’s office says an election is the way to go and an ordinance is illegal. City-parish attorneys say literally the opposite. To wit, from the local legal memo issued March 10: An election is neither required nor appropriate. And from the AG’s opinion issued March 25: Such changes cannot be made by ordinance of the governing body.

What’s odd is that such changes have been made by ordinance for decades. As noted in the LCG report, LCG has routinely reapportioned districts between censuses by ordinance. It’s unclear whether the AG opinion suggests that practice should be outlawed altogether. The local memo says reapportionment “may not be determined by referendum,” a direct contradiction of the AG’s interpretation of the charter and statute.

Let’s not argue till we’re blue in the face. I’m not a lawyer. You’re not a lawyer (if you are, sorry). A lawsuit seems inevitable, in which case a judge would settle the dispute once and for all. Rumors that a suit is in the offing seem legit. Late last week, on behalf of undisclosed clients, attorney Lane Roy filed an inquiry with LCG prodding whether the charter amendments illegally “disposed” of LUS Fiber. Roy could not be reached before press time.

LCG attorney Paul Escott showed steady confidence in the work of his legal team Tuesday night and appeared skeptical of the speed and substance with which the attorney general’s office responded to a Monday request sent by a state senator from Vermilion Parish.

“[The request letter] looked strikingly similar to the actual opinion of the attorney general’s letter,” Escott said. Escott contrasted the relatively scant review in the AG opinion with the three weeks of study his team of four attorneys took to produce an 11-page report that concluded an ordinance was the best option.

"It does not change my opinion at all," Escott advised the council with respect to the AG’s conflicting opinion. "It does not affect my confidence level.”

AG Jeff Landry said the quick turnaround was the result of “being prepared” in a radio interview Wednesday afternoon. He defended his office’s work, chiding the council for ignoring his advice at “their own peril” and likened the council discourse on the issue to “high pressure sales tactics.” He also questioned whether the secretary of state would allow candidates to qualify under the maps fixed by ordinance. “I don’t know where it goes from here,” he said.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has seen the AG opinion and is weighing his options. Ardoin left the issue up to the council to resolve after first declaring a vote was needed. Spokesman Tyler Brey tells me they’ve not determined what to do in light of the new AG opinion.

“We’re not going to wait until deadlines to make these decisions,” he says.

Geez, can I run for office yet or what? Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret says he expects to issue revised and final maps in the next few days. The registrar of voters is currently finalizing them after Tuesday’s vote to fix the discrepancies by ordinance.

Will the madness ever stop? Probably not. There’s a lot of bitterness clouding the issue. It’s hard to imagine that Tuesday’s vote will be the death of the controversy.

0 Comment(s)

Answers on Bruno loan will be slow coming

The gist: The City-Parish Council unanimously supported a resolution Tuesday by councilmen Jay Castille and Kenneth Boudreaux asking that the body be kept abreast of federal and state investigations into a suspect 2016 loan to one of the Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s assistants. But it’s unlikely the council will be hearing anything any time soon.

Continue 4 min read
0 Comment(s)

The ongoing battle for local autonomy

The timeless battle over autonomy is at the heart of several ongoing debates at the council level, heard earlier this month. The controversy is simple: Does Lafayette want the state involved in our local politics?

Continue 5 min read
2 Comment(s)

Evangeline corridor redevelopment takes first steps with $550K in projects funded

The gist: More than a dozen Evangeline neighborhood revitalization projects, developed in response to construction of the I-49 Connector, were approved for funding, a small but key step in reinvestment efforts.

Continue 3 min read

Get caught up, quickly: The projects are part of a plan developed by the Evangeline Corridor Initiative, an organization launched to address disinvestment in the neighborhoods the Connector is expected to impact. The ECI effort, housed within Lafayette Consolidated Government, was funded by a federal TIGER grant and is not a part of the state process to build the controversial urban interstate project.

13 projects are moving forward spread across all five ECI districts. The City-Parish Council authorized the use of $550,000 set aside in 2014 for this purpose. For the most part, the projects are the low-hanging fruit on the ECI plan.

“This first $550,000 is the first step,” ECI Chairwoman Skyra Rideaux tells me. “We want the community to know we’re committed, and it’s not just a plan on a shelf.”

Planners want to distinguish ECI from the Connector. Over the last two years, citizen participants regularly conflated the ECI work with planning work related to the I-49 Connector, a project nearly three decades in the making. While spurred by renewed planning activity on the Connector, the third such revival, the ECI corridor plan is designed to have impact regardless of the Connector’s completion.

“Even if the Connector never happens, our projects will continue to move forward,” Rideaux says. “We’re committed to making sure these communities are no longer held in limbo.”

Limbo is the key here. Blocks of urban core neighborhoods have languished while the Connector's progress has sputtered. Millions of dollars of properties were purchased by the state over the years to make way for the Connector, including the historic Coburn’s building near the intersection of Second Street and the thruway. That building was spared demolition. Retrofitting it is on the ECI wishlist.

The Connector is plugging away quietly. DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson told me last year he expects environmental studies to be complete in late 2019 and for segments of the project, estimated to cost between $500 million and $1 billion, to be completed incrementally.

Why this matters. These catalyst projects are small solutions relative to the size of the problem. But planning fatigue is a thing. A packed civic calendar of charrettes and studies strains the public’s belief that projects will ever get done, particularly in the historically black, poor neighborhoods the ECI targets. Small wins could show the community that LCG is serious about putting a plan into action.

0 Comment(s)

Eleventh-hour AG opinion says ordinance can’t fix charter amendment errors. Now what?

The gist: Hours before the council will vote on a pair of ordinances to fix the errors, Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion saying only an election can re-amend the charter. The quickly issued opinion contradicts one authored by city-parish attorneys earlier this month.

Continue 4 min read

Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. Landry disagrees, saying an election is the only way to make changes.

Everyone agrees an AG opinion is just an opinion. Across the board, there’s ready acknowledgement that Landry isn’t the law. Still, the contradiction creates a new crisis ahead of the vote given the legal controversy all but guarantees a lawsuit, one way or the other. You can read the opinion here.

“The facts are now that you have two different opinions,” Councilman Jared Bellard tells me. Bellard opposed the charter amendments and says he’ll vote against the ordinances Tuesday night. “I think if you go ahead and vote, you’re going to be encouraging a lawsuit. I wouldn’t want to encourage a lawsuit that’s going to cost us money.”

Suspicion abounds that the opinion is about politics, not voting rights. Landry’s links to the local GOP, which opposed the charter amendments, and his reputation for partisanship, raised questions about his objectivity. Charter amendment supporters, like Councilman Jay Castille, have called appeals for an AG opinion a “political ploy” designed to create chaos by factions that want to see the charter amendments overturned. That the opinion was issued within 24 hours of a request by a state senator from Vermilion Parish doesn’t help the perception that a fix is in.

Some say screw it, let them sue. LCG attorneys were pretty confident that their extensive legal review, based in part on previous AG opinions, was correct in saying a fix by ordinance is the “best and proper” path forward. And some council members are pretty confident in the local legal staff.

“I’m going to go with our legal counsel’s opinion,” Councilman Bruce Conque says. Conque was a charter amendment co-author. “If anyone wishes to challenge it [in court] then fine, which I’m sure they will.”

OK, so what now? Court, probably. Bellard and Conque both say a declaratory judgment could resolve the chaos once and for all. That was a solution proposed by the Fix the Charter PAC earlier this month. Supposing the ordinances pass, the expectation is someone will sue anyway, so pre-empting a suit by asking the court to rule on the matter could rectify things quickly. The concern is a suit could drag the process out, and the clock is ticking on getting candidates qualified for elections this fall.

“You need some type of resolution for the citizens,” Bellard tells me. “I think this is what happens when you leave people out of the process and rush it through.”

There are two new councils to elect, and right now the voting process is in limbo. So long as this hangs in the air, candidates can’t qualify. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin set a July 1 deadline to fix the errors. There’s an outside possibility that council elections will be postponed.

“It’s the safe assumption that someone is waiting for the AG opinion to come out to file a lawsuit,” Fix the Charter’s Kevin Blanchard says. “To the extent that someone is going to, I would hope, in the interest of being sure that someone’s voting rights aren’t damaged, that they do so quickly.”

What to watch for: The ordinance votes at the council Tuesday night. The opinion arrived just in time. The council could table final adoption and figure it out in court, or vote the ordinances through and see what happens.

0 Comment(s)