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Community Agenda 2019

On split council proposition, amendments to the amendments on the way

The gist: Following a rocky roll out and a series of sometimes tense town halls, council members have tweaked the details of a proposition to create separate city and parish councils. Most notably, updated amendments would prohibit termed-out incumbents from sitting on either new council, clarify protocols that govern the privatization of LUS and shift the boundaries of proposed district maps. Each issue had sparked suspicion among voters of the split council’s intended purpose and outcome.
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Policy whack-a-mole: When the first version of the split council amendments went public at the beginning of July, it spawned surprised and irritated opposition in several different corners. Backers of the proposition contend that the proposition was just that: a proposal to be refined. Over the last three weeks, cosponsors Bruce Conque and Jay Castille have worked to mollify the overriding concerns, and the latest amendments published July 5 are the result. Here are the major updates as they stand: Maps: The parish district map remains the same. The city map creates two majority-minority districts roughly based on areas currently represented by Kenneth Boudreaux and Pat Lewis, the council’s two black council members. Downtown would move to District 5, the majority black district based on Boudreaux’s current boundaries; it was originally included in proposed District 2, which is based on Bruce Conque’s current district. Term limits: Updated language prohibits term-limited council members from sitting on either council. There are four termed-out members: Boudreaux, Castile, Jared Bellard and William Theriot. LUS: Charter provisions governing the sale or lease of LUS are expanded to account for professional management agreements, the acquisition creature currently considered by the Robideaux administration. The provision closes a “loophole” whereby a management agreement would not require approval by general election and clarifies that an election would be called by vote of the city council, not the combined council as currently practiced. The original charter only explicitly considers a sale or lease. Robideaux has acknowledged receipt of a legal opinion, related to management agreement, that the arrangement would circumvent a sale. ▸ What to watch for: Final tweaks and a final vote at the Aug. 7 council meeting. Councilwomen Hebert and Nanette Cook will propose a “rollover” mechanism to tweak the term limit provisions. Hebert, Cook, Naquin and Conque would deduct terms served on the city-parish council from future eligibility. Conque, for instance, has served one term and would thus be eligible for two more on the city council, should he run. Conque says he will tweak the LUS provision to require at least a two-thirds vote — oddly, in this case, four out of five — of the city council to call for an election in the event of a sale, lease or management agreement monetizing LUS. Early indication is the split council proposition has the the six votes required to call an election this fall. Although once it goes to the public, all bets are off. Success at the ballot box largely depends on whether the changes made sufficiently satisfy voter skepticism. “My constituents feel like they’ve been listened to,” says Liz Hebert. Hebert says term limits was the overriding concern. Still, assuming the council votes to put the proposition before voters in December, it’s likely that opposition will continue to mount. Opponents argue the proposition is rushed, that the details are unknown and that their policy prescriptions won’t fix the problems they’re meant to solve.
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Cajundome director Greg Davis steps down to save the cost of his salary

The gist: Longtime Cajundome Director Greg Davis didn’t think it was right that he hold onto his $160,000 a year job while having to deliver news to seven other employees that their positions were being eliminated. So the 63-year-old, who has worked for the Cajundome since it opened in 1985 — 25 years as director — announced he’ll retire at the end of October, three years earlier than he’d planned.

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His second in command, Pam Deville, was elevated to director, a move that alone will cut $120,000 in salary expenses. In all, Davis’ plan ­will save the struggling venue half a million dollars, a figure that represents a 13 percent reduction from the $3.8 million it spent on payroll (including taxes and benefits) in 2018. The venue’s annual operating budget is $7.8 million.

The drastic steps were prompted by a $400,000 deficit for the current fiscal year, a number that for the first time exceeds the operating subsidy paid by Lafayette Consolidated Government to prop up the entertainment venue. That subsidy, $392,000, was cut to $376,000 for next fiscal year; in recent years it was as much as $500,000, and at times — like at the height of the IceGators’ popularity— has been zero (another $100,000 LCG provides annually can’t be used for operations). Davis says a study by LEDA concluded that the the subsidy averaged $358,000 annually for the first 30 years of the Cajundome’s existence.

“I’d been looking at this [financial situation] for at least four to six months,” Davis says, explaining that he was holding out hope a couple more concerts would be booked in the current year. That didn’t happen. And concerts are where the money is.

It’s the economy, stupid. While Lafayette’s economy may be showing signs of stabilization in the aftermath of the hit it took from low oil prices and resulting job losses, concert promoters seem to think we’re still suffering too much to take a chance on us, Davis suggests. “I think we’re going to overcome it. We’re going to book more concerts. You book the right concert in this market, and it will do well.” Case in point: the Garth Brooks series, which accounted for five of the eight concerts the Cajundome hosted last fiscal year. Brooks alone sent $217,400 directly to the Cajundome’s bottom line from ticket and suite sales, concessions and merchandise. Eight concerts, which is the Cajundome’s average, were enough to finish last year in the black, the six booked this fiscal year were not. In past years, the venue has hosted as many as 10-12 concerts.

Davis is leaving the Cajundome in competent hands and in great physical condition, the result of a $21 million renovation completed in December 2016. That capital improvement (and the construction of the convention center) was funded by a bond sale backed by the Lafayette Parish hotel-motel tax the state rebates to the venue, money that can be used for capital improvements and maintenance but not for operations.

What’s next for Davis? The community activist and lifelong North Lafayette resident plans to continue devoting much of his attention to education reform, specifically reversing the mindset that black children, especially poor black children, are incapable of excelling academically. He’s on the board of TM Landry College Prep, which is moving from Breaux Bridge to Lafayette in September, taking over the former call center at Northgate Mall. “TM Landry is … a walking contradiction to that belief,” Davis says. “It’s going to provide outstanding examples of black children who are achieving at high academic levels to overcome this myth that because of the color of your skin and because you are poor, that you are not capable of high achievement.”

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How can you trust a convoluted government?

Seventy percent of Americans continue to trust their local government, a level that has held relatively steady for over four decades and across party lines.

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Robideaux details timeline of talks to privatize the electrical division of LUS 

Nearly two weeks since The Current broke the news, Mayor Joel Robideaux presented a detailed timeline of his talks to privatize the electrical division of LUS through a management agreement with a private equity firm based in Baton Rouge. Robideaux had come under fire for leaving council members out of the conversation, most of whom only learned about the deal in media reports.

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Council approves a new innovation trust, a possible ‘crypteaux’ vehicle

▸ The gist: On Tuesday, the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted to approve the creation of a new public trust, called the Lafayette Public Innovation Alliance, and seat its first trustees. They were approved to serve five-year terms by the City-Parish Council. Future trustees will be nominated by the mayor-president and approved either by the city-parish council or, if the proposed charter amendments pass, by the parish council. Robideaux named Lafayette Parish the beneficiary of the trust.

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▸ The trustees are:

  • Chris Meaux – CEO of Waitr
  • Bruce Greenstein –  EVP, chief innovation and technology officer at LHC Group
  • Mandi Mitchell – assistant secretary of Louisiana Economic Development
  • Ramesh Kolluru – VP for research, innovation and economic development at UL Lafayette
  • Joel Robideaux

▸ Uh, what do they do, exactly? The primary goal of this trust is to produce and attract more technology and software development talent in Lafayette. There are no local public dollars being invested into the trust at this time — although Robideaux did offer to throw in the first $100 if that was required to make it kosher. The intent is to leverage the trustees’ contacts nationwide to find grants and get the trust funded and off the ground.

“Certainly any effort regarding a Lafayette-based cryptocurrency would naturally fit within the goals of the trust as I see them,” Robideaux wrote in an email. “More specific, if Lafayette develops a digital token and that token can generate seed money for the trust, then I would be elated.”

▸ What to watch for: Innovation districts. Robideaux indicated the fund could finance innovation districts that would help the region attract new talent. “We need to produce more talent locally, or implement a strategy to attract talent from other places…specifically technology talent,” he said at the meeting. While there was nothing specific about what that might entail, the idea resembles similar efforts underway in Chattanooga, which claims to be the first mid-sized city to establish an innovation district.

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The case against separate city and parish councils

Not every argument against separate councils holds water, but some are compelling and worth exploring

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The case for separate city and parish councils

Over the course of five town halls, we’ve talked through just about everything but the merits of creating separate city and parish councils. Here’s the case for the split.

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In retirement announcement, Huval questions move to privatize LUS

Terry Huval, director of LUS for 23 years, has hurried his retirement amid revelations that the Robideaux administration is in talks to privatize the system’s electrical division.

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How cashing in on LUS reveals the unfairness of consolidated government

While there are more questions than answers about selling LUS, one thing we know for sure is that it’s a perfect example of the unfairness baked into the structure of Lafayette’s consolidated government.

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Leaving council members in the dark jeopardizes Robideaux’s LUS play

Much of the City-Parish Council, already disillusioned that it was left in the dark during negotiations, appears unified in opposition to LUS’s electrical division changing hands.

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Robideaux administration considering sale of LUS’s electric division Mayor in ongoing discussions with private equity firm to purchase or manage the division

Talks between the Robideaux administration and Bernhard Capital Partners over the potential purchase of Lafayette Utilities System have been ongoing since at least the beginning of the year.

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A redistricting compromise is in the works to court Pat Lewis to support the council split

▸ The gist: Lewis reportedly flipped to a “no” on an amendment to create separate city and parish councils when he saw the way his district was redrawn in preliminary maps. As late as minutes before Tuesday’s council meeting, Lewis was shown a map that would give him a safely black voting district, potentially allaying concerns about gerrymandering and disenfranchisement.
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▸ Some background: Lewis currently represents a consolidated district that’s 63 percent black and includes Downtown. A map published last Thursday removed Downtown from Lewis’ new district, placing it in Bruce Conque’s new district, and included a close to even racial split between white and black voters. Lewis indicated at Tuesday’s council meeting that he was left out of the process of redrawing the maps, a complaint shared by fellow councilmen William Theriot and Jared Bellard. Lewis asked that the council to wait for the 2020 census to consider substantial changes to the charter. 
Several revisions have been made to appease Lewis’ concerns, a process reportedly hemmed in by Lewis’ residence in the north reaches of city limits. The latest reported revision, shown to Lewis before the council meeting, would create two majority black districts instead of one. Districts currently represented by Lewis and Kenneth Boudreaux would represent populations that are more than 60 percent black, arguably “safer” districts for either councilman to run in. Lewis has yet to indicate if the change would satisfy his concerns. It may be that his bigger concern is losing Downtown. I was unable to reach him for comment before press time. 

▸ Yes, redistricting is ugly: 
And no, this doesn’t really look like gerrymandering. Something to keep in mind is that Lafayette is roughly 64 percent white and 31 percent black. By ratio, that would legally entitle black voters to 1.55 seats on the council. The last minute revision would provide, ostensibly, two black councilmen on the city council and one on the parish council. Downtown would also move to Kenneth Boudreaux’s district in that proposal. It would thus be hard for Lewis to oppose that revision on the grounds that it disenfranchises black voters. But there is another ugly truth at play here: Redistricting takes into account the interests of the politicians themselves. Lines are drawn to accommodate the ambitions and desired constituencies of the sitting council members. That’s as much true for Pat Lewis’ district as it is for anyone else’s. It’s not pretty. It’s politics.
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