Citizens for a New Louisiana opens Baton Rouge chapter

   
Jamie Pope

Jamie Pope of Citizens for a New Louisiana’s new Baton Rouge Chapter

2021 is looking bright for government transparency, as Citizens for a New Louisiana adds a new chapter in Baton Rouge. Having an office at our state’s capitol, and in the literal shadow of the capitol building, will help us to bring you closer to the action when our state legislature is in session. Baton Rouge is also the home of one of the largest and most complex municipal governments in the entire state. Since our focus is local government first, we will be (and already have been) exploring topics in this area. So, be on the lookout for great, local information coming from our newest addition, Mrs. Jamie Pope.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to look forward and understand what’s possible without first glancing backward to see just how far we’ve come. So, here’s a look back at a few of our accomplishments in 2020.

Vermilionville

VermilionvilleNot since “no French in school” has anyone thought it a good idea for government to meddle in local culture and politics. Vermilionville’s decision to use your tax dollars on things other than their primary mission drew much ire from the local public. That cry for attention eventually led to the discovery that the “social justice warriors” on the taxpayers’ payroll have been losing over $1 MILLION a year for the last few years. That’s in spite of Vermilionville raising about a million of its own money. This year, though, the government mandated shutdowns are sure to have damaged the museum’s self-generated revenue substantially (and possibly completely). That’ll make the losses much worse this year – perhaps as high as $2 million. If it wasn’t for Citizens for a New Louisiana, no one would have known about any of this.

More taxes slowed or reversed

Guillory VETOAlthough the five new taxing districts foisted upon us by the Lafayette City Council in 2019 remained in effect, there were several other tax challenges in 2020 worth remembering. First, while businesses were shutting down and people were losing their jobs, the School Board unanimously raised your taxes while no one was looking. Tommy Angelle, a school board member who voters recently added to the Lafayette Republican Party’s Executive Committee, gave his full-throated support for those tax hikes.

However, at Lafayette Consolidated Government, M-P Josh Guillory vetoed parish property tax increases, while the City of Lafayette’s council unanimously decided against raising property taxes. Similarly, Kevin Naquin pulled a 0.2¢ tax increase from the parish council agenda and asked for the help of Citizens for a New Louisiana to arrive at a different solution. We’ll be updating you on that progress in a future article.

Now might also be a good time to mention the tremendous strides Kevin Naquin has made toward increasing transparency and accountability in Lafayette Parish. Not only has he been open minded and willing to try new things, but he’s been actively working to identify and help reflect in local government the priority shifts our community has made since the 1990s.

I was called into the Speaker of the House’s office

During the debate over the importance of reopening Louisiana’s economy, the Louisiana Speaker of the House called me into his office. That’s when the Seabaugh petition was a few signatures short of success. Speaker Schexnayder and his team told me all the reasons why the Seabaugh petition was a bad idea, and that they had been working on something better. Since then, his team has not made any real plans public. Instead, they signed the petition! As of this writing, that petition is still working its way through the court system.

Some four weeks ago, the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected Judge Morvant’s ruling supporting the governor. While the next chapter could begin at any moment, we’re moving toward getting the Senate to sign on, because that’s what Judge Morvant said he wanted (even though the law doesn’t require it.) At the moment, the Seabaugh petition lawsuit sits on Judge Morvant’s desk, waiting for him to rule on the merits.

Who told you about obscure jail policies costing Lafayette Parish $3.5 MILLION?

That’s right, it was Citizens for a New Louisiana, the only organization dedicated to government transparency, that told you about the out of parish mandays, transportation and other costs, that have been syphoning funds from the Parish budget for the last few years.

Those articles brought a new understanding to this problem. Now, we’re told by several parish councilmen that the Sheriff is working diligently to address this issue. We applaud his efforts to re-focus the jail on in-parish prisoners, while reducing out-of-parish prisoners. None of this would have happened without the research work of Citizens for a New Louisiana.

Judges, Marshal’s and other races

The judicial district races have the potential to completely change Lafayette. Because of our work on these races, we received an abundance of positive feedback. Many of you (and even members of the press) told us that Citizens for a New Louisiana was the ONLY PLACE they could turn to for real, unbiased information about these political races.

We covered Natalie Broussard, Dona Renegar, Susan Theall, Senator Bill Cassidy, the Love Life Amendment, Amanda Martin, Dwazendra Smith, Royal Colbert, Danny Landry, Don Landry, Dustin Murphy, Jules Edwards, Michelle Odinet, Michele Billeaud, Glynn Shelly Maturin, Kay Gautreaux, Kip Judice, Reggie Thomas, Nathan Broussard, and others. Previously, we even covered the Lafayette Republican Party races. We wrote about that race twice, the first installment being Team Carlee’s Revenge. In 2019, we also brought you a deep-dive into the history of then candidate Carlee Alm with her husband’s company, titled, CGI and the rise of Carlee.

The library’s out of control spending

Library money!This year, we also kept you up to date on the Lafayette Public Library’s inability to cut anything in their budget. In fact, we showed you where the library has increased its payroll and human resource related expenses by MILLIONS in just the last few years. That deep-dive article into the library was part of our plan to fix the parish budget without raising taxes.

Be of good cheer, though, there will finally be some good news coming out of the library in the weeks ahead. From fiscal responsibility to major shifts in priorities, you will be impressed when the news is finally made public. A long-time reader will remember, our attention was first drawn to the library by a $42.3 MILLION surplus that they insisted wasn’t really there. After that, by our breaking story that the library was spending your tax dollars to promote cultural shifts; namely: drag queen story time.

We protected your residential neighborhood

Back in 2020, there was an attack on residential neighborhoods and our tourism tax base all at the same time. That’s when the administration moved to completely deregulate AirBnB, damaging the hotel industry and eliminating residential zoning protections for traditional neighborhoods. While another battle is bound to come along eventually, Citizens for a New Louisiana successfully convinced the administration to rethink turning Lafayette into a Wild West of short-term property rentals.

Our efforts even caused the Lafayette City Council to modify their procedures surrounding public comments. If you were wondering why the “blue cards” are now pink, or any other variety of colors, it’s because people walked the Saint Streets with stacks of blue cards so their neighbors’ voices could be heard without having to show up at the council meeting. The council didn’t like that, so they changed the rules to make it more difficult to submit your feedback.

We told you about the City’s illegal “loan” to a private developer

It seems no one else cared that Article 7, Section 14 (A) of our state constitution declares, the funds, credit, property, or things of value of any political subdivision shall not be loaned, pledged, or donated to or for any person, association, or corporation, public or private. Regardless of these rules, Lafayette effectively gifted $1.5 MILLION in your tax dollars to a private land developer, to build a private apartment complex that benefits a private company. The City of Lafayette receives no actual financial benefit from this project.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but readers should know that the fight to recover their tax money is not over.

The end of the CREATE tax

During the Robideaux administration, the solution to fixing drainage problems was taking money from the Library’s $42.3 MILLION surplus (that the library says didn’t exist) and moving it to a “flood water management” fund. Robideaux held a portion of that money hostage for CREATE, a government takeover of Lafayette’s local culture. While the revenue was relatively small (about $500,000 a year), it was an insult to many of the hard working people in Lafayette. Under the new administration, and very early on, Kevin Naquin and Josh Guillory teamed up with Citizens for a New Louisiana to rededicate that money back to core government functions like road and bridge maintenance.

Five new taxing districts

Similar to the Lafayette bottle art lofts project, the City Council also delegated to itself powers it does not possess. That is, they created five new economic development districts and empowered the boards of those districts to raise taxes. Lafayette’s Home Rule Charter (and the State Constitution) says the city does not have the power to levy taxes. Yet, they somehow managed to create a board that does have that power – and appoint themselves as the members to those boards. This battle, too, is not quite over.

We introduced the Integrity Award

Very early into 2020, we introduced our first batch of Integrity Awards, for retiring councilmen Jared Bellard and William Theriot. Their voting records for the previous four years had been nearly perfect in promoting smaller government and lower taxes. Further, their strong character was evident thanks to their unwavering support for conservative ideals even after nearly twelve years of brutal treatment by the local press.

This small space isn’t sufficient to reflect upon their many years of hard work and dedication to Lafayette’s public. However, even today their example shines bright. When large public gatherings are once again in vogue, we’re looking forward to celebrating additions to this noble circle.

Growth here at Citizens for a New Louisiana

As the saying goes, all politics is local. That’s because local is absolutely the easiest, most effective, and most important place that you can engage. After all, what possible impact or influence can an average citizen have on our nation’s capitol – or even our state capitol?

Politics is also a team sport. So, instead of feeling helpless and alone, many of our area’s most concerned citizens have joined forces with us to multiply their impact. People just like you are becoming members of Citizens for a New Louisiana and teaming up with other local citizens to learn the behind the scenes interworkings of the city council, the parish council, the school board, or a board or commission. Becoming a member is how you, too, can make a difference in your local community.

Aside from getting a very handsome lapel pin, designed by our very own Krystal Rushing, we’re adding the ability for our members to do their own research using the materials we’ve been gathering for years. We’ve made a database of searchable meeting minutes for every single Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting going all the way back to 1996. There are also searchable video transcripts for every city or parish council meeting in 2020. Several local boards and commissions also have a searchable database of meeting minutes and agendas. We’ve even started adding in searchable records for other local municipalities as far away as Morgan City and Baton Rouge.

We’re also dedicating 2021 to building relationships with local, regional, and state-wide elected officials at our weekly membership “secret lunch” events. This gives our members a unique ability to sit down across the table from powerful members of our local and state governments. This is the kind of relationship building an average citizen needs to affect real change in their community.

If you really want to know what’s going on in your local community, and take part in educating others or starting your own research, there’s really no better organization to become a member.

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Don’t be a spectator, join the fight to save Louisiana.

Citizens for a New Louisiana is the only organization in Louisiana dedicated to reforming local government. With the help of numerous volunteers we are making some progress. However, there’s much more work we could be doing. Making a difference will take a little more than reading an article every now and then. We need you to step onto the field and become a real part of the solution.

Here’s what YOU can do to make local government better:

  1. Coordinate with us to attend public meetings. Aside from the various city councils, parish council, and school board, there are 34 boards and commissions in Lafayette tasked with spending your money. We need people paying attention to every single one of them. Become a volunteer, and we’ll help to identify where you can make a difference.
  2. Adopt a board or commission. As important as attending meetings is knowing what will happen at those meetings ahead of time. By “adopting” a board or commission, you will get meeting agendas in advance. Connect with us to find out how you can get move involved.
  3. Sign up for our email newsletter and turn on post notifications in your browser. Social media has the power to censor content online. During the recent presidential election, our traffic on social media was cut by 90%. That traffic is nearly all back now. However, being informed about your local government shouldn’t depend upon Facebook’s whims.
  4. Subscribe to Citizens for a New Louisiana’s website. As a subscriber, you’ll get to read our content ad-free and get inside information about what’s really going on in the Lafayette area. You can subscribe by creating a free membership below.
  5. Become a member. Among other benefits, members get a membership pin, are entitled to join our “secret lunch” group and attend any of our weekly meetings.

Become a member today

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