Two big wins in the tech sector have folks once again talking about Lafayette’s arrival as a bonafide tech hub. Do these successes really mean that Lafayette is a tech town? Columnist Geoff Daily and editor Christiaan Mader talk it over.
As a result of Waitr’s hard work and pluck, our community now has all the ingredients needed to power an explosion of growth in our digital economy.
In local voting, timing is everything For tax measures in Lafayette to ever have a shot, election scheduling has got to change.
If holding off-cycle elections is the parish government’s strategy to raise taxes, it’s a poor one. Research shows that low turnout favors those who oppose taxes.
The school will serve as an educational institution for the students, as well as hands-on learning experiences for collegians and faculty to experiment with new teaching techniques.
The gist: Embattled City Marshal Brian Pope argued that emails which led to his indictment on seven felony charges were not public record and should not be admitted as evidence in his trial for those crimes. The district court denied Pope’s motion to suppress the emails. They will be used in his trial.
Some background: The emails in question were obtained by defunct news outlet The Independent in a public records dispute that arose during the 2015 sheriff’s election. That year, Pope staged an official marshal’s press conference to attack Mark Garber, then a candidate for Lafayette Parish sheriff. The email records later proved the press conference was scripted by Joe Castille, a shadowy political consultant who ran the campaign of Garber’s opponent, Chad Leger.
Pope himself did not give up all the emails requested. The Independent made parallel requests to the marshal’s office and to Lafayette Consolidated Government, which maintains the marshal’s email server. LCG’s cache of emails included records of Castille’s involvement in the press conference, indicating that Pope had illegally deleted or omitted the emails in his own production of records.
Pope’s attorneys argued that LCG unlawfully seized the records.
District Judge Jules Edwards III, who presided over the civil dispute between The Independent and Pope, held Pope in contempt for failing to turn over the records, ruling that the emails were indeed public record. Edwards later threw Pope in jail for violating his probation.
“They’re public records because Judge Edwards says they are,” responded prosecutor Alan Haney. “You can’t suppress a public record. He wants you to use the law to hide what he was doing.” Clearly, District Judge David Smith agreed with him.
The trial will likely take place in Lafayette Parish. At least that’s the early indication. Pope’s attorneys sought to move the trial out of the area on the grounds that Pope couldn’t get a fair trial in light of “mountainous” negative press.
Again, ADA Haney: “If they can try [serial killer] Derrick Todd Lee in East Baton Rouge Parish, they can try Brian Pope in Lafayette Parish.”
Haney argued Pope brought the press on himself by virtue of his own misbehavior. Most stories in the mountain of clippings, he said, were factual.
A living room conversation with columnist Geoff Daily. He talks Lafayette’s dire economic situation, how we got here and whether we can get out.
The gist: The news broke this week that app-based food delivery service Waitr was acquired by a Texas billionaire in a $308 million deal that will take the company public. CEO Chris Meaux says the company intends to expand operations in Louisiana and will continue to call Lafayette and Lake Charles home.
Meaux tells The Current…“We’re committed to Lake Charles and Lafayette; that’s where the bulk of our employee base is from a corporate perspective. We’re committed to Louisiana. This is gonna remain our home and that was an important factor in this deal.” Waitr’s management staff will remain the same, with Meaux continuing to serve as CEO. He also will be the newly public company’s board chairman.
You can breathe now: In the immediate wake of the acquisition, it wasn’t particularly clear where Waitr would end up. It’s now owned by Texas billionaire Tillman Fertitta, the CEO of seafood restaurant chain Landry’s. Fertitta also owns the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles.
Waitr is a major success story for Acadiana and Lake Charles. Losing its growing payroll and employment would have been a huge blow for a down and out Lafayette economy. Waitr employs between 400 and 500 people in Acadiana, including drivers, and accounts for roughly $25 million in annual payroll in Louisiana, according to a rough estimate from Meaux.
What to watch for: The acquisition will accelerate Waitr’s growth rapidly. Before the deal, Waitr was projected to double its revenue next year to $250 million. Capital infusion of this scale will put Waitr in the driver’s seat nationally in the app-based food delivery space in secondary markets. Meaux says the company will add three or four new cities to its portfolio per month and begin buying up smaller competitors. The company will continue to emphasize small and mid-size cities in its growth and marketing strategy. Meaux refers to Waitr as a “small town company.”
Locally, Meaux says the company is expanding beyond its offices at The Daily Advertiser building on Bertrand Drive. One possible landing spot is the Lemoine building Downtown. Meaux indicates the company is close to deciding on a site, but would not disclose where it would end up. Meaux says the company will continue to hire more software engineers, customer service reps and restaurant support staff going forward. Lafayette is Waitr’s software engineering hub.
Much of our GDP has been lost to an industry that seems unlikely to ever fully recover. And none of our industries are on pace to have the kind of billion-dollar growth our economy needs to get back on track.
The transformation of Lafayette from an agricultural parish to a fast-growing metro area has placed increasing emphasis on the Vermilion’s original role as the main source of drainage for the parish. It’s unclear if the river is up to the task.
Contributor Rex Moroux — realtor by day, raconteur by night — relives the anguish and near triumph of his bout with the buzzer on Jeopardy!
The gist: Edwards held a press conference at UHC to highlight the impact of a budget impasse in the state legislature. The budget currently working its way through the legislature imposes steep cuts to healthcare and the apparent damage could be devastating. UHC officials have warned that the hospital would effectively shut down if a budget deal doesn’t fund the partnership that operates it. Just last week, 37,000 patients in medicaid funded nursing home care were alerted that their coverage may disappear.
”It shouldn’t be this hard” was Edwards basic message exhorting lawmakers to put aside politicking and sort out a proper budget. Edwards rallied local firepower behind that message. Richard Zuschlag, CEO of Acadian Companies, set the governor up with an emotional appeal for bipartisanship to solve the budget crisis:
“Failure to do so would cause a catastrophic healthcare crisis,” Zuschlag said. “This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about the people of Acadiana.”
Zuschlag also penned a #SaveUHC letter in The Advocate.
The state needs to close the gap on $648 million in lost revenue this session because a temporary sales tax will expire. Edwards noted that number would climb if the partner hospitals close; the state receives $168 million in lease payments from its private partners like Lafayette General Health, which operates UHC. Edwards said running the state’s partner hospitals costs about $200 million annually.
Indeed, it’s argued that losing UHC would crush Acadiana economically, potentially siphoning off $70 million in lost money.
What does Edwards want? Long term, he says he wants a stable budget process. Right now, he’s asking for a portion of that one-penny temporary sales tax to stay on the books. He said today that will fully fund essential services and reduce tax collections by $400 million.
But isn’t this really about politics? It’s hard to see it any other way. For a bipartisan appeal, Edwards spent a lot of time in his remarks raking legislators over the coals for failing to create a sustainable budget structure over the past two years of special sessions and partisan haranguing.
On the right, folks will tell you that Edwards is fear-mongering — Rep. Nancy Landry used that word exactly in a tweet — and that no one believes that the budget as written will go forward.
But, there’s talk out there that Republican lawmakers simply don’t want a Democratic governor to have a win. Edwards said there are legislators “praying for others to have the courage to do the right thing” so healthcare can be restored to full funding while they quietly vote against raising revenue.
The Louisiana Watershed Flood Center and a proposed regional flood monitoring network are positioned to plug a huge gap in Acadiana’s ability to understand how we flood and how to effectively plan for and respond to floods.