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Lafayette Consolidated Government

Lafayette can’t afford the way it’s growing

Everyone knows Lafayette’s roads are bad. But some roads are so bad they’re a public safety hazard. Unfortunately there’s just not enough money to fix them, and the problem is getting worse every year.

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The parish general fund has zero dollars; the city general fund has $46 million

The gist: LCG’s annual audit, presented this month to the City-Parish Council, revealed a worsening trend over the last fiscal year: The parish is out of money, while the city has a generous fund balance.

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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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Court dismisses charter amendment suit. Appeals expected but not yet filed.

The gist: A district court judge dismissed a legal challenge that threw into question last year’s vote to create separate city and parish councils, characterizing discrepancies in the voting precincts for the new form of government as “clerical errors.” In his Wednesday ruling, Judge John Trahan held that the City-Parish Council acted within its authority when it passed an ordinance correcting those discrepancies. Plaintiff Keith Kishbaugh, joined by the secretary of state, argued the corrections could only be made by an amendment approved by popular vote.

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Suit filed to overturn ordinance fixing charter errors

The gist: A suit was filed against Lafayette Consolidated Government in district court asking that an ordinance passed to fix discrepancies in the new city council district map be overturned. Observers have long expected the dispute over the council split would land in court.

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Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map, wording that did not appear on the ballot — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. The attorney general and others disagree, saying an election is the only way to make changes. 

A council candidate named Keith Kishbaugh is serving as lead plaintiff for a group of charter split opponents, including KPEL radio personality Carol Ross. Kishbaugh, who runs Kishbaugh Construction, has declared his candidacy for consolidated District 1, the seat presently held by Kevin Naquin. Should the split councils remain, he would pursue a District 1 seat on the newly formed Parish Council; Naquin is running for the District 2 parish seat.

Kishbaugh tells me he believes the charter amendments, passed in December, were pushed by an “interest group” and remain deeply unpopular among voters. A key grievance of Kishbaugh’s is what he characterizes as the “arrogance” shown by some City-Parish Council members in defying Attorney General Jeff Landry, who issued an opinion last week saying only an election could fix the errors in legal descriptions of the city council districts.

“I think it needs to be re-voted on,” Kishbaugh says. “I firmly believe the people behind it — [council members] Castille, Naquin, Conque, Hebert and, unfortunately, Nanette Cook — they have a fear of this being revoted because, if it’s a landslide in the opposite direction, it could hurt their political aspirations.”

The suit will be heard soon. Attorney Lane Roy says civil procedure requires that suits concerning election matters be expedited and heard between two and 10 days of filing. Roy says the issue is “pretty doggone clear,” arguing the attorney general’s opinion, which forms the basis of the suit, dispenses of the lengthy argument offered by City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott that an ordinance is the most appropriate way to readjust the boundaries. The suit was assigned to Judge John Trahan.

Roy says the errors make the whole election illegal, arguing the charter amendment proposition is one issue. The group also retained Roy to file an inquiry with LCG questioning the legality of replacing the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority with the City Council, an effect of the charter amendments. The end game is to throw out the December election result.

“There’s only one proposal that went up for the vote,” Roy tells me. “[The public] has to be able to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to the entire package.”

The secretary of state previously said only the errors should be the subject a vote. The argument that the errors invalidate the entire charter amendment election is a new one and contradicts, to some extent, comments made by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin after a meeting with state and City-Parish attorneys in February.

To be clear, overturning the ordinance would not necessarily overturn the election. What’s not clear is how opponents could accomplish it, and that question is not in the petition itself.

Charter amendment supporters have worried that a legal challenge would not materialize until much later in the campaign cycle, potentially postponing the elections for new city and parish councils.

“We’re grateful that we’re gonna go ahead and hear this now and not three months from now,” says Kevin Blanchard, an organizer with Fix the Charter PAC.

You can read the suit here.

This is a developing story.

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Council bucks the AG, and now we’re all waiting for a lawsuit

The gist: Opinions issued by LCG’s legal team and the attorney general on how to fix the charter errors are irreconcilable. The council sided with city-parish attorneys, raising the specter of litigation, which seemed pre-ordained regardless.

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Get caught up, quickly: Errors in the legal descriptions of the map for the new city council districts — literally, words describing a map — have thrown the transition to separate councils into turmoil. In a lengthy report, LCG attorneys confidently argued an ordinance can fix the errors. The attorney general’s office disagreed, saying an election is the only way to make changes. The council approved a reapportionment ordinance fixing the issues by a 6-3 vote Tuesday night, with councilmen Pat Lewis, Jared Bellard and William Theriot voting against it. Now we’re waiting for some mysterious litigant to appear.

Not to overburden the point but these two opinions can’t be more opposite. The AG’s office says an election is the way to go and an ordinance is illegal. City-parish attorneys say literally the opposite. To wit, from the local legal memo issued March 10: An election is neither required nor appropriate. And from the AG’s opinion issued March 25: Such changes cannot be made by ordinance of the governing body.

What’s odd is that such changes have been made by ordinance for decades. As noted in the LCG report, LCG has routinely reapportioned districts between censuses by ordinance. It’s unclear whether the AG opinion suggests that practice should be outlawed altogether. The local memo says reapportionment “may not be determined by referendum,” a direct contradiction of the AG’s interpretation of the charter and statute.

Let’s not argue till we’re blue in the face. I’m not a lawyer. You’re not a lawyer (if you are, sorry). A lawsuit seems inevitable, in which case a judge would settle the dispute once and for all. Rumors that a suit is in the offing seem legit. Late last week, on behalf of undisclosed clients, attorney Lane Roy filed an inquiry with LCG prodding whether the charter amendments illegally “disposed” of LUS Fiber. Roy could not be reached before press time.

LCG attorney Paul Escott showed steady confidence in the work of his legal team Tuesday night and appeared skeptical of the speed and substance with which the attorney general’s office responded to a Monday request sent by a state senator from Vermilion Parish.

“[The request letter] looked strikingly similar to the actual opinion of the attorney general’s letter,” Escott said. Escott contrasted the relatively scant review in the AG opinion with the three weeks of study his team of four attorneys took to produce an 11-page report that concluded an ordinance was the best option.

“It does not change my opinion at all,” Escott advised the council with respect to the AG’s conflicting opinion. “It does not affect my confidence level.”

AG Jeff Landry said the quick turnaround was the result of “being prepared” in a radio interview Wednesday afternoon. He defended his office’s work, chiding the council for ignoring his advice at “their own peril” and likened the council discourse on the issue to “high pressure sales tactics.” He also questioned whether the secretary of state would allow candidates to qualify under the maps fixed by ordinance. “I don’t know where it goes from here,” he said.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has seen the AG opinion and is weighing his options. Ardoin left the issue up to the council to resolve after first declaring a vote was needed. Spokesman Tyler Brey tells me they’ve not determined what to do in light of the new AG opinion.

“We’re not going to wait until deadlines to make these decisions,” he says.

Geez, can I run for office yet or what? Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret says he expects to issue revised and final maps in the next few days. The registrar of voters is currently finalizing them after Tuesday’s vote to fix the discrepancies by ordinance.

Will the madness ever stop? Probably not. There’s a lot of bitterness clouding the issue. It’s hard to imagine that Tuesday’s vote will be the death of the controversy.

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The ongoing battle for local autonomy

The timeless battle over autonomy is at the heart of several ongoing debates at the council level, heard earlier this month. The controversy is simple: Does Lafayette want the state involved in our local politics?

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Robideaux’s report on Bruno loan raises more questions than it answers

The gist: When his initial defense of an ethically questionable loan to one of his top aides fell short, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux turned to the city’s legal department to produce a report exonerating both his administration and the assistant. The report does neither.

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Lafayette is now the site of a scooter skirmish

The gist: First, Bird flew in 100 scooters overnight. Now, Lime has rolled 25 of its custom-made scooters into town this week, making Lafayette the latest skirmish in 2018’s dockless scooter war.

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