As we watch and wait for the masterminds of Lafayette Parish to come up with their plan to fix what they broke, potential outcomes have been the talk of the town. In short, the City of Lafayette’s precincts are mangled to the point of being unconstitutional. Secretary of State, Kyle Ardoin, called a meeting Monday to ensure everyone was on the same page. Afterward, several council members who were not present for the meeting said the solution was to amend the districts by a simple ordinance. However, the account of people in attendance was the Secretary’s preference was a vote of the people.
Yes, this has happened before.
It’s true that the council has adjusted districts in the past by ordinance. These were in response to changes in population, such as annexations or census-triggered reapportionments. However, neither of those scenarios are before us today. Instead, we have a new government plan that’s been approved by voters, but not yet implemented, whose districts are in need of adjustment.
The last time this happened was after the home rule charter was approved but before it took effect: a scenario eerily similar to the one before us today. In 1992, voters approved the home rule charter and consolidated form of government. In April of 1994 the governing authority wanted to adjust the districts defined in the home rule charter before voters would elect the new council in October of 1995. To accomplish this, the council passed several ordinances aimed at amending the charter and calling for a public vote to accept those changes. The relevant ordinances were O-32-94 and O-34-94 of April 28, 1994. The voters approved the changes on October 1, 1994.
According to first-hand accounts of Monday’s meeting, the first recommendation was to create a charter amendment ordinance in time for the May 4th election. The deadline for that election, March 11th, is simply not attainable since the next regularly scheduled meeting is the day after the deadline. The final recommendation was to request that the state legislature call a special election in June. Local members at the meeting were disinclined to call a special election.
What’s likely to happen?
The three pro-split members, who were not present at the Secretary of State meeting, have made clear their intention to introduce an ordinance alone to “fix the charter.” The reason they may prefer this solution is the charter’s section 7-03E provision forbids the same issue from coming before voters within a year. The people already voted on this last December, so they shouldn’t be presented with a precinct change any earlier than next December. There is no election scheduled for December, so the next available election date would be in 2020 – well after the current council’s time has expired.
Numerous elected officials or organizations have the power to request an Attorney General’s opinion on the legality of amending the precincts without a vote of the people. Any statewide elected official, parish-wide elected official (such as the Mayor-President, District Attorney, or Clerk of Court), a legislator, or a state senator could make the request. It takes a little more effort, but it’s also possible for an elected body to request an opinion by a resolution. Two of the more interesting possibilities include the Democratic or Republican Parish Executive Committees, whose district lines mirror the parish council’s.
Qualifying for the newly created council seats begins in August, which is probably why the Secretary of State recommended a special election in June to fix the districting problems. An AG opinion or any legal challenges could sideline the whole process for months. With all of these roadblocks, how will they “fix the charter” again before it’s too late? Could potential legal challenges extend the current council members long enough to resolve these issues? What if they do eventually manage to get a “fix” on the ballot and voters reject it?
It’s likely to get worse.
We’re continuing to work through public documents as it relates to this issue. There are several more threads we’re following, so stay tuned.