LAFAYETTE — A proposal to replace Lafayette’s consolidated city-parish government with separate governments for the city and the parish could go before voters in October.
The Lafayette Charter Commission — formed by the City-Parish Council to explore changes in local government — recommended in April that voters should decide whether to undo the 1996 merger of Lafayette’s city and parish governments.
The City-Parish Council is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to bring the issue to voters in October at the same time as the council elections, barring any unforeseen roadblocks.
“The goal is to get it on the October ballot,” Council Chairman Kenneth Boudreaux said.
The council is legally mandated to bring the charter commission’s proposal to voters, but there have been questions on when that should happen.
There was an early concern that the deconsolidation proposal would need to be pre-approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department must sign off on proposals that directly or indirectly affect where and how people vote in most Southern states, a requirement that dates to the 1960s and aims to prevent efforts to reduce minority voting strength.
No problems are expected, but the federal review is required, and waiting for its completion could push the timeline back beyond the fall elections.
But Louisiana law appears to require that a charter commission’s recommendation be put before voters on the next available election date after the recommendation is approved, according to city-parish attorneys.
Boudreaux said the deconsolidation proposal could be put on the October ballot without pre-approval from the Justice Department.
If the proposal passes and the Justice Department has an issue, a second election could be held to amend the proposal to address the problems, Boudreaux said.
“Anything that is not good and sound could be dealt with after the fact,” he said.
The deconsolidation proposal would replace the current nine-member City-Parish Council with two separate councils — a seven-member council for the parish and a seven-member council for the city.
The city-parish president’s job would be replaced with a mayor for Lafayette and a parish president for Lafayette Parish.
The two governments could still work together in providing basic services, including road repair and drainage work, but there would be no requirement for cooperation.
The deconsolidation proposal has its roots in complaints that the merger of the city and parish governments gave residents living outside the city limits too much control over what happens within the city.
That balance of power is an issue because despite the consolidation of some aspects of the city and parish governments in 1996, the city of Lafayette remains a distinct legal entity, with separate taxes and its own police department, fire department and publicly owned utility system.
The issue has marked a dividing line on the council, with the five members representing largely city districts pushing for a vote on deconsolidation and the four members with districts mainly outside of the city calling for more consideration of alternatives.
Opponents say that deconsolidation will hurt the unincorporated areas of the parish, where the tax base might not be able to support a separate government while also maintaining current levels of service.
If voters approve deconsolidation, the plan would not go into effect until 2016 because state law requires that the council members elected this fall be allowed to serve their full four-year terms.