LCG council members and the charter “fixers” are in quite a conundrum. On the one hand, they love saying “the voters have spoken.” On the other, they are concerned that a special election could reverse the result of last December’s vote.
Remember, in April of 2017 when the Courthouse & Jail Complex millage and the separate Jail millage renewals both failed, the “voters have spoken” crowd put those same taxes right back on the ballot. They passed on the second try, with a significantly lower turnout.
For the December “fix” initiative, the media campaign implied that “Lafayette must be broken and we have to do something.” It resonated well with voters who’ve been battered by one tax election after another. After all, if the government keeps trying to raise taxes, that must mean the government is broken. That narrative makes less sense when we realize the people who have been trying non-stop to raise taxes are the very ones who pushed the “fix” proposal.
Petition to dismiss the lawsuit
That brings us to Thursday’s news from The Daily Advertiser. Six residents of the disenfranchised portions of precinct 74 (who were written out of any district in the new charter) have suddenly and inexplicably demanded that Lafayette’s City-Parish Council be allowed to change the December 8th ballot AFTER it passed!
Justification for replacing the will of the people with the will of the Lafayette City-Parish Council isn’t mentioned in the article. However, the insistence that the council’s plan to fix their error is more important than a vote of the people, state law, and the rules set forth in their own governing document is the basis of the lawsuit. The merits of that suit are so strong that both the Louisiana Secretary of State and the Attorney General have joined against the Council.
Errors were the result of a rushed process
Historically, it takes about a year to navigate the process to amend a home rule charter. However, this time the council decided to dispense with the formality of reforming a charter commission. A minority of the council took it upon themselves to completely rewrite the home rule charter in secret and then thrust it upon voters inside a span of two-weeks.
That process skirted council quorum rules by creatively coordinating efforts between a supermajority of members. The three original councilmen met behind closed doors and then separately discussed the plans with another three members. All six operated as an organized body to modify and approve their plan before springing it on the final three members.
A little more background
Once the new home rule charter cleared the voters (with the help of a nearly $70,000 marketing budget), errors were kept quiet until the day after the sixty-day challenge period ended. The City-Parish legal team then crafted a plan to amend the charter again, but without the people’s consent – in violation of state lawand the charter itself. The council flirted with asking the state Attorney General if their plan was legal, but ultimately decided that they didn’t want to officially know the answer to that question.
That’s when State Senator Bob Hensgens caused quite a stir by requesting the AG opinion anyway. The opinion confirmed everyone’s suspicions: the council’s plan was, in fact, illegal. Later, the very same day the legal opinion was issued, the council voted to proceed anyway. Keith Kishbaugh, a local builder and declared candidate for the Lafayette Council, then filed a lawsuitto protect the voters’ right to amend their own home rule charter, as guaranteed by Article VI Section 5(C)of the Louisiana Constitution.