News + Notes

Judge denies secretary of state’s request to suspend charter amendment ruling pending appeal

The gist: A district court judge denied the secretary of state’s request for a suspensive appeal, a procedure that would have paused the effect of his decision upholding City-Parish Council’s ordinance to fix errors in the amended charter.

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Get caught up, quickly: Last year, voters said yes to creating separate city and parish councils. The proposition included some typos in the text describing the new city council districts that, left in error, would leave some voters without representation. The City-Parish Council fixed those discrepancies by ordinance, in March, a move that drew a legal challenge from a council candidate. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin joined that suit, which was ultimately dismissed May 8 by Judge John Trahan.

Ardoin had filed a suspensive appeal. If granted, the district court’s ruling would have been shelved until appeals were exhausted. Lawyers with the attorney general’s office, representing the secretary of state, argued that allowing the ruling to take effect would have “disastrous consequences,” should the constitutionality of the corrective ordinance be overturned during or after the election.

Attorneys for some Lafayette residents argued suspending the ruling would have risked leaving 300 disenfranchised. Again, that’s if the appeal would linger into or beyond this fall’s elections. Legal descriptions defining voter precincts would remain broken if the ruling were paused, they argue, leaving them unable to vote.

An appeal will nevertheless work its way through the courts. Attorneys for Keith Kishbaugh, the candidate who filed the original legal challenge to stop the fix by ordinance, filed a separate appeal. Both parties were granted “devolutive” appeals, meaning the judgment remains in effect during the appeals process. You can see the notice of appeal here.

Ardoin appears bound to qualify the election, should the appeal drag on. In a separately filed motion to stay the judgment pending an appeal, Ardoin contended that allowing the judgment to stand with appeals in the air was, in effect, a legal order on the office to hold the election according to the amended charter. There are fewer than 70 days until qualifying.

Why this matters: Qualifying begins Aug. 6 for the Oct. 12 election.
Following an appeal all the way up to the Louisiana Supreme Court could take as much as 60 days from here, I’m told, although the appellate courts will likely work to move things along. Should the appeals linger into August, this effectively means candidates for separate city and parish councils will be qualified.

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Adopt-A-Stop count up to 30 bus shelters funded

The gist: In its first year, the public-private partnership program Adopt-A-Stop has accelerated the pace of covering Lafayette’s 618 bus stops. A Lafayette’s McDonald’s franchisee cut the ribbon on the second of its three pledged stops Tuesday.

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“The generosity has been overwhelming,” Councilwoman Liz Hebert tells me. Hebert launched the program a little over a year ago. LCG’s budget has paced new shelters at 11 each year. Funding 30 in a single year takes a big chunk out of a still massive problem, tripling the number LCG can fund on its own. Only 10 percent of the city’s shelters are covered, leaving many of its riders, who make about 5,000 trips each day, without shelter in the summer’s sweltering heat and/or pouring rain.

“It’s great for the community, it’s great for our employees and we’re glad to be a part of it,” McLaff Inc. CEO EJ Krampe said at a ribbon cutting on the site of Lafayette’s very first McDonald’s, originally constructed in 1972 at the corner of Willow Street and the Evangeline Thruway. Around 15 of the store’s employees use the shelter each day, he said. McDonald’s has joined a growing list of community partners on the program, including UL Lafayette, CGI and the Islamic Center of Lafayette and more.

Hebert says she’s pursuing grants through LCG for more funding. Finding public dollars for the program is tricky, she says, a fact echoed by Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux who remarked at the ceremony that he’s struggled for nine years to get more funding for bus shelters.

Boudreaux recalled his family’s front porch once served as an improvised shelter. The Northside councilman praised Hebert’s program, applauding the work for the dignity it provides citizens who rely on the bus system to get around. “Until you experience it, you don’t know,” he said.

Why this matters: Transportation access remains a challenge for many who live in economically distressed neighborhoods northeast of the Evangeline Thruway. More and more businesses are vacating those areas, putting additional strain on residents who don’t own cars but need to travel farther for work.

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Downtown Rising dreams big

Could a new, possibly-annual, ticketed concert series keep Downtown Lafayette on its ever-developing path? Gus Rezende and Social Entertainment think so.

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Shaq, U.S. Rep. Higgins no longer Lafayette reserve deputy marshals

The gist: Lafayette City Marshal Mike Hill has winnowed down the number of his office’s reserve deputies — which had swelled to about 60 under his predecessor — to but a handful. Hill has called in the commissions of nearly 50 reserves who appear to have been deputized for no other reason than political patronage.

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New era but same consultant for LUS on long-term planning process

The gist: LUS will contract Burns & McDonnell to run its integrated resource plan, the process the utility uses to determine its future energy needs and how it will power them. The choice of consultant met immediate criticism among local green energy advocates. The contract is worth $500,000 and was approved Tuesday by the professional services committee.

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Burns & Mac guided LUS on two controversial decisions. In 2011, the company recommended LUS continue burning coal in central Louisiana, instead of switching to natural gas, a decision critics maintain was a costly mistake in hindsight. And in 2016, LUS developed a $100 million plan to build new natural gas generators, at the consultant’s suggestion, even raising electric rates to finance the plan. That decision triggered a backlash that ultimately shelved the plan and in part led to last year’s privatization controversy.

“Half a million dollars is a lot of money,” renewable energy advocate Simon Mahan tells me. Mahan developed a lengthy document criticizing the 2016 plan but has since departed Lafayette. “To use the same firm that got it wrong twice before is eyebrow raising.”  

Interim Director Jeff Stewart says this contract is different. The 2011 and 2016 plans did not involve robust public engagement, and Stewart says that engagement is baked into this upcoming process.

“That’s why we shelved [the 2016 plan],” Stewart tells me. “I want as many people who want to get involved to get involved.” He expects to time the public facing process to PlanLafayette activities, with outreach beginning in September.

LUS’s open approach seems to be working. Mahan tells me he believes that Burns & Mac is capable of delivering. And he gives a lot of credit to Stewart’s leadership style.

“Frankly, I’ve been really impressed with what he’s been saying and the actions he’s taken. There’s a new wind at LUS to listen to the public a little bit more,” Mahan says. “That makes me feel good.”  

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Vision 2020: Lafayette has the chance to lead a state lagging on climate change action

Fighting climate change takes a global effort — one that we are simply choosing not to participate in.

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How swamp pop invaded the U.K. and stole Nick Lowe’s heart

Swamp pop took over the airwaves of 1970s London where it was loved and celebrated by English hitmakers like Nick Lowe, who performs in Lafayette this week.

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Ad exec Paul Eason likely to be fourth candidate in M-P race

Eason says he has long had a passion for service and feels like the timing is right for him and his family now. The 60-year-old Republican businessman owns and operates Eason Advertising in the Oil Center.

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Nancy Marcotte running for mayor-president

Ad exec-turned-Realtor Nancy Marcotte is joining the race for mayor-president of Lafayette.

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Russo asks for new trial, claims Superior turned blind eye to activities

In a motion for a new trial filed late last week, attorneys for Chris Russo say there is ample evidence his former employer’s parent company, oilfield services giant Superior Energy, knew about Russo’s side business interests and therefore has no right to recover damages and profits.

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LCG planners workshopping a way to score growth decisions by return on investment

The gist: A new tool in the works could help city planners and officials assess the cost and return of annexations or development to taxpayers. LCG’s planning department has included the concept in an RFP issued last week to solicit contractors to work on the PlanLafayette fifth-year amendment.

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Planning Director Danielle Breaux tells me the tool is about awareness. The “tool” — that’s pretty much government/consultant planner jargon for “method” or “rubric” — won’t set any hard-fast limits on what can or can’t be developed or annexed, but will assist officials in those decisions by giving a simple way of measuring or understanding the cost of growth. In 2017, consultants brought in by LCG estimated the average family would need to pay thousands more in taxes just to maintain existing roadways and drainage systems, a figure that doesn’t account for growth.

We need to find a way in this community of evaluating what’s coming through,” Breaux says. That means accounting for the costs of providing services like electricity, water, sewage and transportation to new developments permitted or annexed. Historically, officials have tended to look at income generated through property and sales taxes on new growth and development, without considering the cost to link up new neighborhoods or apartment complexes to city infrastructure. Lafayette is said to have a backlog of $97 million in roads and bridges projects alone.

How exactly this ROI tool will work is still undefined. Breaux hopes to develop something that won’t require a “staff of MBA number crunchers” to use. The key here is communicating the real cost of growth in a way that illuminates the net positives and negatives associated with growing outward or upward.

This is part and parcel *ahem* of firming up PlanLafayette’s guidelines. In particular, the land use map included in the comp plan intended to guide growth patterns in a way that curbs sprawl. That map has had little teeth, Breaux says, and is primarily conceptual in nature. In the fifth-year amendment process, PlanLafayette will revisit the action items put in place in 2014 and look to sharpen the plan’s implementation. Despite progress, planners say, Lafayette has a long way to go.

“Quite frankly, we have no zoning in the parish,” Planning Manager Cathie Gilbert says. “That is the number one thing that inhibits any true ability to manage land use.”

PlanLafayette’s monthly workshops continue May 22 with a session on Strategizing Economic Growth. You can sign up for the free day of workshops here. LCG will also release an Opportunity Zone prospectus and website designed to showcase Lafayette to capital investors looking to take advantage of the tax incentive program created by Congress in 2017.

Why this matters: Planning is not something Lafayette really ever did in the past, much less did very well. Looking at ROI on growth choices can give the public and officials something real to talk about when it comes to understanding the impact of growth on taxpayers. Not long ago, Lafayette was the poster child for a city underwater with infrastructure costs. In flood-prone Acadiana, unchecked growth remains a major public risk, as demonstrated in 2016.

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Stabil Drill parent company to UL: ‘Drop Russo name from baseball stadium’

The gist: Armed with a $72 million judgment against two former executives at one of its Lafayette-based subsidiaries, oilfield services giant Superior Energy is making it clear it wants the name of one of those execs stripped from the UL baseball complex.

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