Louisiana

Trayford Pellerin’s family secures commitment from Guillory to see body cam footage in first steps toward reconciliation

The gist: A raw, two-hour meeting between Josh Guillory and the family of Trayford Pellerin yielded a cautiously improved rapport and a commitment from the mayor-president to show the family body cam footage documenting Pellerin’s killing by Lafayette police. The conciliatory meeting, coming two weeks after the 31-year-old Black man’s death, sketched a framework for longer term progress on race and policing in Lafayette. 

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Allowing the family to see the video would help bring clarity and closure to a publicly volatile situation. Through their attorney, Ronald Haley, the family commended Guillory’s efforts at reconciliation. The family has consistently called for more transparency from the administration and investigators, a push that has been echoed and amplified by protestors for weeks. Haley applauded the mayor-president’s contrition, accepting it as sincere, but promised to hold Guillory to his word on several commitments, such that the “olive branch” extended would bear fruit.

“The family got more out of the meeting than they anticipated they were going to get,” Pellerin attorney Ronald Haley told reporters minutes after the meeting. “We have to continue to hold the mayor’s feet to the fire,” Haley said. Guillory accepted an invitation to Pellerin’s funeral this Thursday. 

Guillory’s spokesman says the mayor-president is “hell-bent” on following through. Chief Communications Officer Jamie Angelle tells The Current the administration does not anticipate any roadblocks in showing the family the footage. Should any appear, he says, the public will hear about it from an outraged Guillory. 

A lack of clarity has pulled the story of Pellerin’s death in contrasting directions. Relying on grainy footage from bystanders, locals have seized on unconfirmed details to peg his death as a tragic but justifiable precaution or yet another example of racist and deadly police violence. Outside of investigators, no one has seen exactly what happened to Pellerin, and speculation and anger have run rampant in the vacuum. Haley released the findings of an independent autopsy report this week, challenging the official narrative offered by the administration and state police, which is investigating the shooting, since shortly after Pellerin’s death. Reports by local media seized on details suggesting Pellerin wasn’t tased, which would contradict official reports from the scene and some accounts from bystanders. 

Video evidence could shed light on the steps police took to avoid killing Pellerin. Initial statements from the mayor-president, who told Pellerin’s family he had not seen the body cam footage himself, backed the police account of the shooting, claiming police took steps — such as firing tasers — to de-escalate the encounter. The family and social justice activists have contested that narrative, saying it fails common sense. Officers hit Pellerin 10 times in a flurry of gun fire that shattered glass on the door of the convenience store he was trying to enter and then handcuffed him, Haley contends, citing the autopsy report paid for by the Pellerin family. The Pellerin autopsy found no taser markings, but was ultimately inconclusive about whether tasers were used. State police declined to release to The Current the findings of the autopsy produced in their investigation. 

Earlier Friday, Haley rebuked “two weeks of silence” from authorities involved in the Pellerin case. At a press conference called by the local NAACP chapter, Haley challenged elected officials to pressure state police, who are investigating the shooting, to release the body cam footage, security video from the gas station where Pellerin was shot and the 911 call that brought police to the scene. 

“The longer they wait, the harder it’s going to be for each side to digest what the truth is,” Haley said at the Friday morning press conference, saying his efforts were neither “anti police” nor “pro social justice” but fixed doggedly on achieving transparency. 

LPD turned the case over to Louisiana State Police. That’s standard procedure for shootings involving officers in Lafayette and other jurisdictions in the state. At the Friday morning press conference before the Pellerin family met with Guillory, NAACP representatives criticized the arrangement, saying it was being used to shield local law enforcement from transparency. NAACP reps further called for police reform and for the district attorney to prosecute the officers who shot Pellerin. 

Guillory further promised to explore deeper improvements in LPD. Described by Haley as an agreement in principle, Guillory’s commitments set short, intermediate and long-term goals for repairing local law enforcement’s relationship with the Black community. Here, Haley again credited a new face for Guillory, whom he earlier criticized as a mayor of two cities, one white and one Black. 

“The mayor we saw in that meeting was not a mayor of two cities, but a mayor of one city,” Haley said.

Here’s how to help out with Hurricane Laura from Lafayette

If you want to pitch in but have limited time or resources, here’s a list of local organizations where you can donate supplies, money or volunteer to help our friends who were impacted by the devastating storm.

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COLUMN: Parish government isn’t ‘living within its means’

Parish government has been on life support for years now. With the city’s finances now strained, it’s time for the parish to get serious about living within its means.

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Living through Covid in Louisiana French

In interviews with Cajun elders, UL archivists explore the experience and expression of the pandemic in Louisiana French.

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Louisiana’s emergency hotel shelters have stopped taking in new households

The gist: Hundreds of unhoused families, including children, have moved into hotel rooms serving as de facto shelters since April. State housing officials have asked regional partners to stop taking more into shelters, signaling that the program is likely to end soon, leaving many without anywhere else to go. 

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341 Acadiana households are living in hotel shelters, the highest manifest in the state. The New Orleans area is second on the state’s list with 288. Last week, the Louisiana Housing Corporation asked housing agencies to stop offering new 30-day vouchers for people seeking shelter, according to Leigh Rachal, executive director of the Acadiana Regional Coalition for Housing and Homelessness. LHC has not made any formal declaration ending the program. But Rachal says stopping new admissions shows the writing is on the wall; it’s just not clear when the program will end altogether. 

“We’re going to need a lot more places for people to rent. And we’ll need them available immediately,” Rachal says. 

LHC did not respond to a request for comment.

Other Louisiana cities, armed with larger funds for housing assistance, began moving families into more permanent housing earlier. But in Acadiana, a lack of available rental assistance and housing within a reachable price range has slowed the transition

Funding and speed is a big problem. Moving hundreds of families into housing is a big undertaking, and funding is moving slowly across the board, even as it’s been outstripped by demand. The first phase of LHC’s rental relief program ran out of money in less than 24 hours, its site flooded by 40,000 applications. 

Delays and uncertainty are problematic for the hotel partners, too. Since taking over funding the hotel shelter program, LHC has fallen behind on payments to hotel owners. One owner in Lafayette, who has kept dozens of people in his remodeled hotel on the Evangeline Thruway since April, says LHC is two months behind. He’s offered a discounted rate to the state housing corporation — which will be reimbursed by FEMA — but the cash flow represents a lifeline for his business. 

“If this is the final week, that would be a disaster,” says Harvey Patel, the hotel owner. “If this is the final month, then we’ll have some time to organize ourselves and get things going.” 

Dozens have been turned away for lack of options. Rachal estimates between 50 and 70 unhoused people are without any shelter. By this fall, with no changes, Rachal expects that number to climb to 100 and to be measured in hundreds by Christmas.

Northside rec centers targeted for closure are the cheapest to operate

The gist: Closing rec centers on Lafayette’s Northside and laying off three dozen parks employees has been justified as a budgetary necessity. But the four rec centers targeted operate at the smallest deficits in the parks department’s portfolio.

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$80,000 was the total cost to run the four centers in 2019. Combined, they generated just under $32,000 in revenue — mostly from 58 rentals at the Heymann Park recreation center — and operated at a net loss of $48,000. For context, the Robichaux Center, where protestors disrupted Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s most recent town hall, ran a $57,500 deficit, according to budget records provided by Lafayette Consolidated Government. 

Most of the savings in Guillory’s cuts come from 37 parks layoffs. Altogether, the staffing cuts would save $1.7 million in recurring expenses. It’s not clear which of those positions were directly related to the rec center operations. Guillory eliminated the parks police department (five positions for $389,000), six rec center coordinators ($272,000) and four janitors ($138,000). Coordinators and janitors are the minimum staff necessary to keep the rec centers open. Other layoffs are in the tennis and golf programs. Several unfilled positions are included in the total staffing reduction. 

Guillory’s parks budget outsources grass cutting through his Geaux Mow program. The total budget to contract year-round lawn care for the system’s 35 parks and three golf courses is $300,000. Ten maintenance positions for groundskeeping are eliminated in the budget, which ran a total payroll of at least $380,000. 

City Council members are pushing to take control of the funding altogether. An ordinance introduced Tuesday would put city park dollars under the sole legislative authority of the City Council. More than 90% of parks funding comes from city tax dollars, a share that will grow in Guillory’s proposed budget, which allocates only $40,000 from the parish general fund. Council members have attempted to restore all the cuts by ordinance, a move that was blocked to some uproar by the Parish Council. 

The Parish Council has offered up a $200,000 stop-gap plan. Pulling funds already rededicated from the library system’s reserves, the parish council plan — which has received an endorsement from the mayor-president — would give plenty of cushion for the rec centers to operate through October 2021, the end of the next fiscal year. That would include bringing back some positions, but fall well short of those laid off, as critics point out, during a pandemic and economic crisis. 

Guillory has spun the narrative to say he’s fighting to keep the rec centers open. But this is a discretionary budget decision and one that he’s consistently defended as an inevitability. Prior attempts to justify the cuts have cited them as underused and argued that the remaining Northside centers are “more than adequate.” In a pamphlet circulated to council members July 21, the administration notes that $890,000 is available in unspent CREATE funds, responding to a series of questions in a FAQ format. Could those funds be used to cover the rec center costs?  “Possibly. This is a philosophical and technical question that requires discussion,” the administration responds in the pamphlet.

At Vermilionville, a reckoning with cultural exclusion

Vermilionville has made strides in presenting a more comprehensive portrayal of the Acadiana’s history. Change at the museum, however, is a work in progress.

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As rec center fury grows, budget conflicts brew for Lafayette’s new government

Lafayette’s recently separated councils fell into the early makings of a constitutional impasse, only months into the new form of government.

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Got budget questions? We can help!

Understanding what the budget says isn’t always easy. The Current’s budget guru Geoff Daily is here to help.

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Guillory cuts deep with his first budget proposal, citing Covid and matching campaign platform

The gist: A conservative who ran on reining in government spending, Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory zeroed out millions in city spending in his first budget proposal since taking office. Unveiled Tuesday night, the budget calls for arts, recreation and community development programming to take the brunt of the austerity cuts, while what Guillory calls core government services remain largely intact.

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The operating budget would be reduced by $30 million, with most cuts hitting the city’s general fund. The deep cuts are set against a predicted $23 million decline in revenues for the next fiscal year. Last year’s consolidated budget topped $630 million, including the utility system, which is roughly half of the budget all by itself. Guillory’s proposed budget, introduced to the councils Tuesday night, frames up a $600 million consolidated budget. Lafayette’s city general fund hovers around $100 million in appropriations annually. 

Covid-19 figures prominently in the budget messaging, but many of the cuts target services Guillory views as secondary to the functions of government. Other savings were realized by ordinances passed to pause scheduled pay raises for the city police, fire and LCG employees. Those raises are a big part of the ongoing operating deficit Guillory inherited. 

“We have to ask the difficult questions and be willing to freshly examine old assumptions,” Guillory writes in his budget message. “By honestly examining all aspects of our operations and diligently seeking better ways to do things, we can develop a real culture of innovation in Lafayette Consolidated Government.” 

As a candidate, Guillory promised to do more with less. And that messaging was consistent before the pandemic blew up municipal budgets across the country and dried up tax revenues. He signed a pledge with conservative backers during his run, promising not to raise taxes and to prioritize infrastructure and public safety as core government priorities, rhetoric he’s stuck to since taking office. His budget accomplishes that and then some. Many of the notable cuts are to programs heavily criticized by the hardline conservatives that backed Guillory.

Those savings may come at great cost to families who rely on programs facing steep cuts. Guillory cut city general fund subsidies to the Parks and Recreation budget by 37%, including closures to four rec centers on the Northside and layoffs to three dozen employees. That’s on top of layoffs at the Lafayette Science Museum, Heymann Performing Arts Center and other cultural programs that sparked fierce backlash earlier this summer. Going into Tuesday’s council meeting, the rec center decision surfaced outrage among Black leaders blindsided by the late-week announcement and subsequent scrambles to explain the decision. Guillory faced a long chain of rebuke from community members, egged on by jeers from the auditorium, in a marathon meeting that started at 5 p.m. and ended at 3 a.m. Many called Guillory to find cuts in his own office, including sacking Guillory’s chief of minority affairs, Carlos Harvin, a former member of the Senior Pastoral Alliance who’s  reportedly lost what little credibility he had with many Black leaders. 

“You should be ashamed,” NAACP chapter President Marja Broussard said through a mask, turning her glare directly to the seated mayor-president. Broussard and others have characterized Guillory’s cuts as disparate in their treatment of services cherished by the Black community. His decision to back moving a Confederate statue in Downtown Lafayette brought him little to no capital with aggrieved Black leaders, who nonetheless chastised the administration for failing to understand the role the rec centers play. Around 2 a.m., the city council voted unanimously to support moving the statue, an emotional coda to the meeting. 

Guillory defended the rec cuts by sticking with a justification he made in the days after the announcement spurred rallies and a widely circulated petition. “The facts are one-third of our rec centers still proudly serve the Northside,” he said coolly in the heat of public comment. Again, the auditorium groaned and Parish Council Chairman Kevin Naquin gaveled for order. All four rec centers are in neighborhoods with relatively low rates of vehicle ownership. The administration’s vaguely articulated plan for public-private partnerships with local church groups has not curried favor among advocates fighting to keep the rec centers open.  

“You’ve made it perfectly clear what the priorities of the administration is, and that’s fine; I certainly respect that. But parks and recreation and anti-poverty programs and services provided by community development are to my district what drainage is to Liz and Nanette’s districts,” City Councilman Glenn Lazard said, referencing fellow City Council members Liz Hebert and Nanette Cook, both of whom represent portions of south Lafayette. Lazard’s comment was met with loud applause from a packed council auditorium Tuesday night. 

Many of the cuts would remain indefinitely. Longterm, the administration severs operating subsidies — supplemental dollars from the city general fund — for many of the affected programs. That’s consistent with Guillory’s calls to remake local government as we know it and push for more privatization where possible. Some cuts will be restored. Subsidies to Lafayette Transit System would stop for the next two fiscal years, replaced in the interim by a $7 million award from the federal coronavirus stimulus, with funding reverting to pre-Covid levels. But others, like the cuts to the Heymann Performing Arts Center that drew uproar from the dance companies that use the space, won’t be restored. 

The budget forecasts steep losses in revenue into the next year. In her published budget discussion, Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups projects a 17% reduction in sales tax revenue in the current fiscal year, and another 11% decrease in the next one That includes $7.5 million in lost utility revenues, as bills have gone unpaid during the pandemic. LUS rolled out a program to help families catch up on their bills, spreading the debt out as long as they’re able to stop accruing more. It’s unclear whether LCG will take advantage of the $35 million in debt capacity it sought as a backstop to operations. 

Belts are tightening hard while the city’s substantial reserves are jealously protected. Noting in his budget message the $18 million operating deficit he “inherited” from the previous administration and council, Guillory makes sparing use of the substantial cushion provided by general fund reserves. The city sat on an unaudited fund balance of $54 million going into this year, an amount that would cover 50% of its annual operating costs. For perspective, the city of Lafayette began fiscal year 2010 with a $19 million fund balance, then 20% of its audited expenses, at a time when consolidated government was climbing out of a hole. Guillory’s proposed budget and forecasts for coming years would park the general fund balance around $30 million, or 30% of operating costs while revenues creep up. Long-standing local fiscal policy has targeted a fund balance covering 20% of expenses. Guillory’s proposal, anticipating sluggish revenue growth, keeps reserves well above that threshold. 

“That is what I’m looking into. I get you’re trying to keep money in the general fund. These are the rainy day funds,” says Councilwoman Cook, who has also needled the administration for a lack of communication on some budget figures, including the numbers used to justify the rec center closures. She notes $890,000 in unencumbered CREATE funds, a figure she’d been after to clarify but unable to get pinned down. “That’s the first time I’m getting that number. Those are funds that could be put to good use. To shut down things just for a nice float…I don’t think so.” 

This is a proposed budget and subject to council debate. Both the city and parish councils will have to sign off on the administration’s plan. Over the next couple of months, budget sessions will break the constituent parts down, and council amendments could radically change how the budget looks once it gets to the other side of final adoption. And even then, major changes can be made. Most of the added expenses weighing down the current budget — pay raises for police, fire and LCG personnel — were passed after the previous budget was adopted.

How to plan a performing arts season during a pandemic — Q&A with AcA’s Clayton Shelvin

AcA’s talent buyer talks the challenges of planning for the unexpected and how to attack the notion of the performing arts as a “white space.”

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Savings unknown in decision to shutter park centers on Lafayette’s Northside; so are the costs

Hopping the fence to sneak into the old Heymann Park pool as a kid, Parish Councilman AB Rubin got caught by park police. Decades later he still has a scar under his beard from nicking his cheek, and a parking lot has paved over the pool that was once a fixture of social life in Lafayette’s McComb-Veazey neighborhood. Smiling, Rubin […]

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