What should policing look like in Lafayette?

Tell Us »

They used to make gumbo with bear lard, and other conversations with author Ken Wells

In his new book, author Ken Wells weaves another chapter of gumbo apocrypha, charting a course through what he calls the “gumbo belt” to tease out the greater meaning of it all.

Continue 9 min read

Waitr hit with second federal wage suit

The gist: This is the second collective action suit against Waitr filed by delivery drivers alleging the Lafayette-based food delivery platform doesn’t pay minimum wage.

Continue 3 min read

New Orleans driver Autumn Montgomery says she earned $1.97/ hour when driving expenses were factored in. Her federal complaint claims she drove 279 miles on less than 30 hours of work each week. Using the IRS benchmark of 54.5 cents per mile, it cost her an average $5.28 per hour to drive for Watir. Montgomery retained Lafayette attorney Chris Zaunbrecher to sue, filing a collective action claim in Louisiana’s Eastern District on March 8. The suit also brings state claims.

Another Lafayette-based attorney, Kevin Duck, is trawling to attract drivers for a suit.  

Montgomery’s claims mirror those filed by two drivers in February. The crux is that Waitr drivers are paid $5 or $6 an hour plus tips but aren’t reimbursed mileage. Waitr drivers have big delivery zones in secondary markets, so when the pay dips and the drives are long, their earnings drop below minimum wage, a violation of federal law. Or as Gizmodo put it. “Waitr delivery drivers say they’re being screwed, too.”

“Some of these people are essentially paying Waitr to work for them,” said Carter Hastings, one of the attorneys representing Jualeia Halley and Heather Montgomery in the February suit. “But since it’s wear and tear, they don’t typically realize it.”

At issue is the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour and requires employers to pay workers “free and clear” of their costs of working. This is also called the “kickback” rule.

Gig economy companies like Waitr are targeted for labor violations all the time, although Waitr’s case is somewhat unique. Virtually all of Waitr’s drivers are W2 employees, not contractors, which exposes the company to the kickback rule. Its competitors, like GrubHub and DoorDash, have more commonly been sued for “misclassification,” essentially, treating independent contractors like employees. Both of these suits make misclassificaiton charges against Waitr, also.

Domino’s franchises have paid out millions on kickback violations. A rash of cases against Domino’s have been filed. Around 100 drivers in Cincinnati were awarded $1 million last year.

Collective action means opt in. That tends to limit the number of claims that would affect Waitr, should the suits go forward. Waitr employs approximately 8,000 active drivers, but the prevailing suit would capture former drivers as far back as 2016, too. The benchmark opt-in average is around 20 percent of a class, but the numbers vary wildly by industry or employer. Some 40 drivers in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama have opted into the Halley suit, many from Lafayette.

Will someone ask for AG opinion on the charter errors?

The gist: Even though the council won’t do it, the conventional wisdom is someone will. Or was it that someone’s going to sue? Oh, it’s both.

Continue 3 min read

Get caught up, quickly. LCG attorneys authored a dense legal opinion that an ordinance was the right way to fix errors in the legal descriptions — words describing maps, literally — for the new city council district created by the charter amendments passed last year. “On this one I’m pretty confidant,” City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott said. Some think a second opinion from Attorney General Jeff Landry is needed. In a tense 5-4 vote, the council decided not to ask for one.

“I haven’t decided,” Mayor-President Joel Robideaux responded last night, when asked point blank by Councilman Jay Castille whether he would ask for one should the council not. Well, the council didn’t. And the m-p still hasn’t decided, according to LCG Communications Director Cydra Wingerter. (Once he decides, I’m sure I’ll be the first to know.)

The local legal opinion itself suggests an AG opinion is likely. The reasoning is that plenty of officials have the power to do it, so someone is likely to seek one out. Here are the guidelines for who can seek an AG opinion. So could various state and parish officials. Everyone’s got an opinion. And many have the opinion that we need more opinions.

Why should we?

An earnest reason: It would settle the matter, i.e., it can’t hurt to have a second pair of eyes.

A cynical reason: The AG could contradict the local attorneys and cause more upheaval.

Why shouldn’t we?

An earnest reason: This is a local matter, and the local attorneys think an ordinance is just dandy.

A cynical reason: The AG could contradict the local attorneys and cause more upheaval.

Does it matter? Yes and no. Yes because an AG opinion could settle the issue or stir up chaos. No because the council looks likely to go with an ordinance anyhow.

Everyone’s resigned that a lawsuit is coming. On what grounds, exactly, isn’t clear. Some suggested the council violated federal law by not getting the new districts precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. But the DOJ removed Louisiana from preclearance requirements in 2013. Once again, that’s really only conventional wisdom. Clearly, the bad blood about the council split isn’t going away just yet.

Rapport between council and Robideaux teeters on dysfunction

The gist: Council members have succumbed to authoring resolutions to get answers from the mayor-president. Trust is breaking down potentially beyond repair in an election year.  

Continue 4 min read

Tuesday’s agenda was chock full of beef. Tension simmered under hours of council discussion about embattled mayoral aide Marcus Bruno, moving money out of Downtown, raising police salaries through legislation and seeking an AG opinion on the charter errors. The Bruno, money transfer and police matters were tabled or withdrawn. The council voted no on seeking an AG opinion.

“All these things that are coming to a head were caused by the mayor-president,” Councilman Jay Castille told me of the heavy agenda ahead of the meeting.

Can you cc us on that email? A central complaint is that Mayor-President Joel Robideaux leaves the council out of major policy decisions.

Castille backed off of pressing a council investigation into embattled mayoral aide Marcus Bruno after being coaxed by Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux to await the outcome of a Louisiana Board of Ethics investigation and a parallel probe by HUD’s office of inspector general.

Councilman Jay Castille backed off of pressing a council investigation into embattled mayoral aide Marcus Bruno.

Bruce Conque withdrew a resolution chastising Robideaux and delaying his request to transfer $10 million in dormant federal transportation dollars to new projects, a process Conque complained the council was cut out of. “I’m not questioning your recommendation,” Conque said. “I’m asking that we be part of the process.”

The complaints echo last year’s blow-up over Robideaux’s closed door efforts to privatize management of LUS, which yielded similar public overtures to tap the council into the administration’s decision making. “The council is always the last one to find out everything before it hits the fan,” Castille grumbled Tuesday night.

Robideaux went on the offensive to defend himself. In a letter sent out Monday, Robideaux turned the blame on Conque, a voting committee member on the MPO, for not doing his duty to inform his fellow officials.

“To say that you’re totally excluded from the process is what I took exception to,” Robideaux said at the council, arguing his request to move monies from a Downtown streetscape and I-49 corridor project were driven by professional guidance. “I don’t want to politicize it. I want it to go where the money should go.”

Council members don’t trust each other either. Council members Jared Bellard, William Theriot and Pat Lewis feel deceived and excluded by the close-knit planning of the charter amendments by Conque, Castille, Boudreaux and Kevin Naquin. How the maps were drawn remains a wound, now salted by the battle over how to fix errors in the legal descriptions of the new city council districts. Castille called Bellard’s resolution to request an attorney general’s opinion on the issue a “delay tactic,” an attack Bellard rebuked.

“This could be a serious issue, this could be non-issue,” Bellard said. “[An attorney general’s opinion] can still happen while your ordinances [to fix the errors] go forward. And we’ll await an opinion.”  

Why this matters. Major policy decisions remain, and elections could ratchet up tension. Unless litigation derails it, LCG needs to transition to a split-council form of government by 2020, a process that’s been on hold since late last year. Robideaux needs to appoint new directors for LUS and LUS Fiber, and he may yet announce bigger initiatives, something of a tradition for him, at the Robideaux Report Thursday night. Dysfunction could make a lame duck year even lamer.

Carpe Diem grows up

Wines, digestifs and intimate décor will tempt the after-dinner crowd to the Downtown staple.

Continue 3 min read

The 2018 ‘Robideaux Report’ Report Card

Assessing how well Robideaux delivered on the promises made in last year’s address.

Continue 12 min read

Federal suit alleges Waitr drivers aren’t making minimum wage

Two Waitr drivers say the fast-growing food delivery app company paid them and potentially thousands of other drivers less than minimum wage in a collective action suit.

Continue 4 min read

Courted on Facebook to run, Carlee Alm-LaBar could make a formidable challenger for Robideaux

The gist: A “Lafayette for Carlee” fan page appeared earlier this week, seeking to draft Carlee Alm-LaBar to challenge her old boss.

Continue 3 min read

What happens when a Walmart dies?

Walmart’s decision shines a light on serious issues with no easy answers.

Continue 7 min read

Old Dog, tasty new tricks

February marked the end of an era. Blue Dog Café announced its endless brunch did indeed have an end. Taking its place is a new menu akin to the lunch and dinner offerings that made their debut alongside the restaurant’s new executive chef, Ryan Trahan, last year.

Continue 4 min read

Robideaux’s scant campaign funds should tempt a challenger 

The gist: Robideaux has about $43,000 in his war chest, according to The Advocate. At this point during his 2015 bid for office, he had $335,000. He’s widely seen as vulnerable to a challenge, a somewhat rare occurrence for an incumbent mayor in Lafayette.

Continue 3 min read

Robideaux says he’s been working, not campaigning. Side-stepping the implication that he can’t get the taps flowing. Indeed, it is somewhat early to draw anything conclusive from the numbers. We’ll see another report soon, and Robideaux told The Advocate’s Claire Taylor he expects to raise the money he needs in short order.

“To my friends in the media, thanks for the advice. I’ll get right on it,” Robideaux replied in a clapback posted to his Facebook page. (Campaign staffers often post on his behalf; it’s unclear if Robideaux authored the statement himself.) The mayor-president has been in a spat with the media lately, freezing out reporters who have been hard on him. He pushed back at the “criticism” and spun it as proof positive of his efforts as mayor-president. “The simple fact is (and a lot of people don’t get this about me) — I’m not a politician at heart,” the statement reads.

Lack of money doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of support, a local political operative tells me, rather a lack of campaigning. That backs up Robideaux’s defense. But the operative says it is indeed odd for an incumbent to have spent so little time fundraising. Articles like The Advocate’s, he says, raise reasonable questions of political strength. Put simply, whatever the reason, having no money in the bank shows a weakness that could tantalize opposition.

“He has not had an incident-free tenure,” UL political scientist Pearson Cross told The Advocate. He’s pointing out that Robideaux’s lack of ground game is odd given his recent controversies.

Saying his tenure is not “incident-free” is something of an understatement. In the last two years, Robideaux has found a way to alienate voters of all stripes. Progressives are angry about his escalation of the drama around Drag Queen Story Time and then trying to raid the library’s fund balance while accusing its directors of deception. Conservatives remain skeptical of CREATE, an initiative they characterize as a slush fund, and the cynical tactics Robideaux used to pass it. Outrage was community-wide upon discovery of his backchannel pursuit of privatizing management of LUS. Now his administration is mired in questions of ethics and transparency related to a suspect loan obtained by one of his aides.

In short, Robideaux has built a platform for his eventual challenger. And most believe he will draw one.

Same battle lines redrawn on how to fix charter amendment boundary errors

The gist: An ordinance correcting errors in the legal descriptions of the new split council districts is under review by city-parish attorneys, with a report expected soon. Legal opinions on a fix have clashed along familiar political lines.

Continue 4 min read

There are two camps here. One supports the ordinance fix and is comprised of people who supported the charter amendments in the first place. The other, which argues a public revote of some sort is the only way forward, is made up of people who fought the amendments.

Both sides lay claim to precedent. Ordinance supporters say the council has changed boundaries by ordinance more than 17 times since consolidation in 1996. The re-vote camp, on the other hand, points to public vote to approve redistricting spurred by the Department of Justice, in the years after consolidation was passed but before it took effect, as proof that a vote is the right way to go. There’s not a clearly applicable precedent. In all likelihood, someone’s walking away from this unhappy.

The secretary of state set a July 1 deadline to figure it out. Secretary Kyle Ardoin, cc’d into the affair by politically embattled Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, fanned controversy last week when he said a re-vote was needed to correct the errors. Ardoin backed down from that certainty, but passed the issue back to local authorities in a meeting Monday.

Big Question: How do you quell the chaos after a decision is made? There’s recognition of some legal ambiguity by both factions. There are two options emerging and, again, they fall along political lines.

Councilman Jared Bellard opposed the charter amendments and has favored a vote to fix the errors.

Option 1: Ask the attorney general. That was Ardoin’s suggestion wrapping up the Monday meeting, which featured no fewer than five lawyers. Getting the AG to weigh in could settle the dispute but stretch out the drama. The opinion could take several weeks to appear. And some worry Landry, a Republican, could re-inject politics into the situation should he opine that an ordinance won’t work. The local arm of the Republican Party opposed the charter amendments, characterizing it in campaign materials as a Democratic scheme. Landry is largely seen as a party man.

“It wouldn’t hurt, but it’s just another opinion,” Council Chairman Jared Bellard tells me. Bellard, who ardently opposed the charter amendments, argued previously that a new vote is needed, but says he’s waiting for direction from city-parish attorneys. He’s not committed to pushing for an AG opinion, but he’s “definitely leaning that way” and believes it would be a smart move regardless what city-parish attorneys recommend.

Option 2: Seek a declaratory judgment. Fix the Charter PAC, the political organization that pushed the amendments, is now urging the council to adopt an ordinance and ask the courts to validate it by way of a declaratory judgment. The idea is to head off a potential suit, throw it to the courts and cut down legal opposition once and for all. The court could say the ordinance is bunk, a risk the PAC is willing to take. “At least we find out in March or April, and not in August or September,” Fix the Charter’s Kevin Blanchard tells me.

What to watch for: More legal opinions. More chaos. More division. The discussion has calmed since last week when statements by Robideaux and Ardoin, certain then that a re-vote was needed, caused a scramble. But the partisan electricity is still in the air. Whatever path is chosen could reignite controversy.