Here’s a selection of items on the agendas for this week’s meetings of the city and parish councils.
Hotel rooms arranged by local housing advocates kept hundreds of people warm during last week’s crushing freeze. Donations poured in across the Acadiana region. But the makeup of people in need underscores rising housing insecurity in the area.
All seven seats are now filled on a committee to study what city residents get out of Lafayette’s peculiar form of consolidated government. Five members were appointed for each district, directly by the relevant council member. And two more were appointed at-large by vote Tuesday night.
Here is the full list:
- District 1 — Joseph Catalon, landman
- District 2 — Mark Pope, former LCG environmental services manager
- District 3 — Roddy Bergeron, IT executive
- District 4 — Jan Swift, attorney and former director of Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation
- District 5 — Tina Shelvin Bingham, executive director of McComb Veazey Neighborhood
- At large — Stuart Breaux, former assistant city-parish attorney
- At large — Bill Leyendecker, retired LCG parks and recreation manager
2/23 Council Preview: Protect the City Committee, five new detention ponds, rent assistance and announcing the Adjudication Bureau
Here’s a selection of items on the agendas for this week’s meetings of the city and parish councils.
There’s a Cold War between the mayor-president and the City Council that could flare up at any time. The city faces a slew of controversial issues, while the parish’s finances continue to teeter on the brink of collapse, and consolidation is put on trial. These are the major stories I’ll be tracking at LCG this year.
The elephant in the room is how much longer this damn pandemic will last and who will be left standing when it finally ends. But that’s not the only aspect of our local economy with an uncertain fate.
Council Preview 1/5 — Lafayette surveillance cameras, more CARES Act funding, conditional pay raises for city marshal’s office, board and commission seats
The gist: After a holiday hiatus, the work of consolidated government resumes with a pair of relatively light agendas. On tap: electing officers, budgeting CARES Act funding and getting answers on a surveillance camera contract awarded to a private firm without council approval.
The contract licenses Lafayette police to use the camera footage for “law enforcement purposes” only but appears to place no such restriction on the firm, which will own, maintain and operate the cameras — and the data it collects.
As far as legalese goes, the ballot language on these “rededications” is about as bad as it gets. Fear not. We’ve got it translated to plain English.
The gist: Preserving CREATE was an uphill battle for supporters who staged a social media campaign to urge “no” votes on a ballot proposition to rededicate the property tax that supports the cultural economy initiative. While CREATE was generally thought to be more popular inside city limits than elsewhere in the parish, the rededication push won out decisively across the entire parish.
Parish and city precincts voted “yes” at about the same clip, says Christie Maloyed, a professor of political science at UL. The rededication was supported by 52% of city voters — in effect ending CREATE — compared with 55% of voters elsewhere in the parish. It’s hard to get a clean picture of the breakdown because of the huge turnout of early voters, which are reported without precinct data. But 58% of early voters supported the rededication, which split the $500,000 property tax in two to pay for rural fire protection, and parish roads, bridges and drainage.
“Anyway you slice it, it looks like a rare point of consensus between the city and the parish,” Maloyed says.
It’s not uncommon for city voters to behave differently than elsewhere in the parish. A 2018 tax renewal supporting the parish library system was pushed through by overwhelming support from parish voters, while voters in city limits voted to keep the tax in place. The ill-fated school sales tax in 2017 was walloped by parish voters, but city voters broke at higher numbers for the tax. At least a narrow majority of city voters backed Carlee Alm-LaBar over Mayor-President Josh Guillory in 2019. A handful of precincts that straddle city limits throws a little uncertainty into the math. But the sense that city voters and parish voters had different priorities was a key driver of the Fix the Charter campaign that successfully created separate city and parish councils.
CREATE was born into controversy. Former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux tacked the measure onto a drainage tax, outraging many voters who felt coerced into supporting the cultural economy tax. Parish Council Chairman Kevin Naquin, who advocated for the rededication, says his constituents didn’t reap the benefits of the program and watched it accumulate a fund balance while parish money problems mounted.
“They’re paying for CREATE and they don’t have anything that’s benefiting from it,” Naquin says. That view inverts a refrain among CREATE supporters that the rededication would tax residents across the parish to pay for a service that only benefits unincorporated Lafayette, two years after voters there defeated a new tax proposed to pay for rural fire service. CREATE did fund some recreation projects in parish parks, but the initiative moved little money on the whole, not just outside city limits.
Saving the CREATE tax may not have saved CREATE. Guillory campaigned on shifting public dollars out of cultural investments, taking particular aim at CREATE. Once he was in office, the program was mothballed and Kate Durio, a Robideaux assistant who ran the initiative, left the administration. Guillory resisted calls to use the $890,000 accumulated in CREATE’s fund balance to plug budget holes that supported signature cultural programs like the Heymann Performing Arts Center and the Lafayette Science Museum. Ultimately, the councils and the administration agreed to use $300,000 in CREATE dollars to soften the budgetary blow on the science museum, which faced insolvency when Guillory stripped it of city funding.
“I honestly take comfort in the fact that [Guillory] doesn’t have that money to waste,” Durio says. From her vantage point, the odds of survival were stacked against the program, which she maintains was still in its infancy. Faced with a hardening political message in local government that culture and recreation are not worth funding with public dollars, CREATE was swimming upstream, she says. Durio mostly expected the result.
“I’m surprised that many people voted ‘no,’” she says.
What happens now? Seventy percent of the CREATE millage will now fund rural fire protection. The other 30% will chip away at a parish infrastructure backlog in the tens of millions of dollars. About $500,000 of the CREATE balance remains, Parish Councilman Josh Carlson says, and there are no immediate plans for what to do with it. Naquin, meanwhile, is on a mission to shore up parish finances overall. He tabled a measure to propose a small parishwide sales tax to help parish government claw its way into financial stability. Naquin argues the funding pulled from CREATE, while small, will make a meaningful difference in improving fire ratings in the unincorporated areas. Both Naquin, a musician, and Carlson, who served on the Heymann Center board, push back on the assertion that ending CREATE is an assault on the arts. Given the dire financial situation in the parish budget, Carlson says, every bit counts.
“No, this doesn’t solve everything. But $500,000 goes a long way when there is very little money to begin with,” Carlson says.
What to watch for? Whether private dollars do step in where public investment recedes. Guillory telegraphed a shift away from government funding for cultural programs, signing a pledge with arch-conservative backers to carve “nonessential” spending out of the budget, and that goes well beyond CREATE. But with the economy still broadly depressed by the pandemic, private dollars may not be able to pick up the tab.
Lafayette’s city and parish councils passed a compromise budget that doesn’t address any of the city’s or parish’s major budgetary problems.
The gist: Two well-known community advocates have quit a task force convened by the mayor-president to tackle healthcare disparities suffered by Lafayette’s Black community. Their departures, announced Friday, parallel sustained outrage at the mayor-president’s decision to shutter four recreation centers on Lafayette’s predominantly Black Northside.
Tina Shelvin Bingham, a community organizer who leads the McComb-Veazey Community Coterie and runs community development for Habitat for Humanity, explicitly names the rec center closures as a reason for her exit, saying in an email obtained by The Current that the administration’s actions have “eroded the trust of North Lafayette residents.”
The other confirmed resignation is Tonya Bolden-Ball, who serves as the program manager for the Center for Minority Excellence at SLCC. In an email informing the task force of her resignation, Bolden-Ball notes a lack of “alignment” with the task force’s vision, but offers no specific grievance. Reached by phone, she declined to comment further.
Bingham’s email, however, is pointed and blunt, describing a lack of organization on the task force and a lack of input afforded its sprawling membership, which includes council members, clergy, neighborhood advocates and healthcare professionals.
“We have struggled to gain equity and inclusion in the planning and mobilizing of testing sites and resources in [City Council] Districts 1 & 5,” Bingham writes. “This compounds the need for working group leaders and members to gain clarity and a clear understanding of our role on this taskforce and decision making. We cannot build a plane if the parts are in a locked closet.”
Bingham was not available for further comment.
Her complaint is echoed by other task force members who say the group has struggled to define its goals and take flight since launching in April. The task force has met several times over the last few months and has coordinated additional Covid-19 testing in Black neighborhoods. LCG announced recently that it would continue offering no-cost testing at the Northgate Mall through Aug. 12, attributing that service to the work of the health equity task force.
The group was launched by Mayor-President Josh Guillory in April, as data began to show that Black Louisianans were suffering the worst of the pandemic, particularly in New Orleans. A statewide task force was launched earlier that month. To date, Black residents account for 40% of Covid-19 fatalities in Lafayette Parish and 33% of reported cases, but make up around 25% of the overall population, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
To run the local task force, Guillory appointed Carlos Harvin, LCG chief of minority affairs. Harvin has come under fire recently, suffering open shots at his credibility from other Black community leaders. Many view his appointment as barter for supporting Josh Guillory after the Democrat’s own campaign, which was announced late and raised virtually no money, sputtered in the primary. Asked about that during an intense interview with former Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who has spared few words for Harvin, the pastor clarified that he did not endorse Guillory, without directly addressing the question of political compensation. Harvin stands to receive a $10,000 raise in LCG’s recently proposed budget.
“The leaders of the Black community knew that he was never there for us,” NAACP chapter President Marja Broussard says of Harvin. Broussard served on the health equity task force but dropped out after growing frustrated with its lack of direction. A member of the communications committee, she says they had yet to formulate a mission for that committee by the time she left around the beginning of June. Broussard has loudly decried Guillory’s rec center decision and calls his overtures toward the Black community — including his support for moving the statue of Confederate General Alfred Mouton — an “illusion.”
Defending the task force and its leader’s record, LCG Communications Director Jamie Angelle says Harvin has worked “day and night” to expand testing access to Black neighborhoods, launching 10 testing sites with community partners.
“There is so much anger and misunderstanding right now, instead of communication and collaboration,” Angelle says. “Now is the time to open more dialogue, the time to come up with solutions to the new challenges we have been facing.”
Broussard says testing is not enough. Echoing some sentiments in Bingham’s parting email, she argues the task force falls well short of what she and others understood to be its purpose: tackling the underlying social and economic disparities entangled in the Black community’s historically poor health outcomes.
Bingham and Bolden-Ball are community leaders, the real “boots on the ground,” Broussard says, and their departure signals the task force’s shortcomings.