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Robideaux moves to appoint split council transition team

The gist: While a legal challenge to the charter amendments winds through the courts, the mayor-president has begun preparing for government by two councils. As of this week, Joel Robideaux has defined a transition team structure, and four appointments have been made.

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Get caught up, quickly: Last year, Lafayette voted to split the City-Parish Council in two, cracking open some tough questions about how to dole out financial responsibility. That vote still faces a legal challenge that could overturn the decision.

“As we approach a legal resolution of the charter amendments,” Robideaux wrote in a Monday email to parish leaders, “it seems prudent to begin putting together an independent [Robideaux’s emphasis] transition team to work through anticipated and unanticipated issues.”

The team is comprised of appointees from parish offices plus UL President Dr. Joseph Savoie. Thus far four representatives have accepted appointments:

  • Louis Perret, clerk of court
  • Keith Stutes, district attorney
  • Mark Garber, Lafayette Parish sheriff
  • Charlie Fitzgerald, district court judges  
  • Conrad Comeaux, Lafayette Parish assessor

Other appointees will come from the parish assessor, the City-Parish Council and the LPUA. Mayors of the other Lafayette Parish municipalities will get one collective appointment.

Creating a transition team has been in the air since at least December. A joint team, appointed by the council and the administration, was floated just weeks after the charter amendments passed. The momentum was derailed by the discovery of errors in the charter amendments that drew a legal challenge. The original concept was a 15- to 20-person team with specific carve-outs for private citizens, according to comments from Councilman Jay Castille at the time. LCG Communications Director Cydra Wingerter tells me the mayor-president’s approach with the current structure is to bring to the table parish officials who have budgetary skin in the game.

“The timing is critical,” Councilman Bruce Conque, a charter amendment advocate, tells me, noting that election qualifying is rapidly approaching. The council has its own transition team to handle the logistical considerations internal to the council, things like sorting out office space for 10 council members instead of nine, and so on.

The transition team has a difficult charge — namely, picking apart a consolidated budget that, in many ways, props up a fiscally fragile parish government. Shared costs for shared services will make for thorny conversations.

“The parish fiscal crisis will remain as the parish budget issues can only be expected to remain status quo at best,” Councilman Bruce Conque wrote in an email to parish leaders this week. “I do not envy whoever will be the new mayor-president.”

What to watch for: How quickly the team is seated and whether this is all for naught. We’re playing a tricky game here. Wingerter tells me the consensus view among parish leadership is preparation is paramount, even if there’s a risk that the courts could pause or even throw out the transition to government by separate parish and city councils.

Former state Rep. Simone Champagne tells political newsletter she’s running for M-P

UPDATE: Paul Eason announced June 12 that he will not run for mayor-president. Read his letter here.

City of Youngsville Chief Administrative Officer Simone Champagne told state politics newsletter LaPolitics she is running for mayor-president of Lafayette. Champagne served as the District 49 representative in the Louisiana House from 2008 to 2014; she was the first and only woman to serve that district (Iberia and Vermilion parishes) in the House.  

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The Current is going nonprofit. Here’s why

Over the last 14 months, The Current has been an experiment in building a new kind of media. We were a new kind of animal. Digital first. Member supported. And now we’re pursuing a new moniker: Lafayette’s first nonprofit news organization. Let me tell you why.

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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.

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.

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.”  

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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