Joey Durel appeared ripe for a challenge as he faced re-election for a second term as city-parish president in 2007.
His hand-picked police chief, Randy Hundley, was under indictment and accused of planting a secret recording device in the department to capture the conversations of subordinates, and voters had soundly defeated a 1-cent sales tax proposal Durel floated just a year earlier.
Yet Durel waltzed back into office unopposed and four years later had little trouble winning a third term with 63 percent of the vote when challenged by Democrat Mike Stagg.
His term-limited tenure comes to a close Monday, when Joel Robideaux is sworn in as city-parish government’s next chief executive.
Durel first won the seat in 2003, a political newcomer and Republican businessman who ran a chain of pet stores started by his father and several local Arby’s restaurant franchises — business interests he sold before taking office.
He has no regrets.
“I have never not loved this job,” Durel said.
He steps down next week with a list of accomplishments that includes shepherding the launch of the city-owned fiber-optic service, LUS Fiber, and negotiating the $5.8 million deal to purchase the 100-acre Horse Farm property on Johnston Street from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for a new city park.
The Durel administration also crafted city-parish government’s first comprehensive plan, a detailed guidebook for Lafayette’s future growth and development that, among other things, maps out strategies for refocusing development in the core of the city.
It was an idea few people were talking about when Durel took office but which now has become central to newly revised development codes.
“Your job is to provide the vision. I’ve always felt this position is about the 30,000-foot view,” Durel said. “I believe a mayor has to be a risk-taker. If you’re not pushing the community into some discomfort, you’re not doing your job.”
Durel, never known as a policy wonk who dug into the nuts-and-bolts of government, said he feels one of his key strengths was filling leadership positions with the right people.
“The only motivation I’ve had to be re-elected is to keep good people in place,” he said.
There have been missteps.
The Hundley controversy at the Police Department was an early one, and the former police chief ultimately stepped down and pleaded guilty in 2008 to attempted malfeasance in office in a deal that spared him jail time.
Two years later, Keith Thibodeaux, whom Durel had tapped as Lafayette’s first chief information officer in 2004, was fired amid allegations that he steered city-parish contracts to a technology company linked to another company that employed his wife as a consultant. Thibodeaux and his wife were never charged.
In 2011, Durel found himself facing a fine, community service and possible jail time for contempt of court when he removed three board members of the Lafayette Housing Authority after a judge had reinstated the men following an earlier attempt by Durel to oust them.
An appeals court later overturned the contempt finding against Durel, who had acted after a state audit uncovered widespread financial problems at the Housing Authority.
There have been other lows, and many clashes with the City-Parish Council, but Durel has maintained a strong central core of support for the initiatives he believes will secure his legacy.
“I just hope we are remembered for a body of work,” he said.
But Durel said he laments some of the work left undone.
A particular sore point is the lack of progress on redeveloping the site of the old federal courthouse downtown into a mix of residential and commercial space.
His administration pushed the proposal for some six years, touting it as a boost for downtown revitalization. But the council had little interest, with some members saying the property should be reserved for a new parish courthouse.
Durel has argued another site could be secured for a new courthouse, which seems a faint prospect in any event, considering there is no money with which to build it.
“I think downtown has been grossly neglected by the council,” Durel said.
Durel also said the structure of city-parish government must be changed to give the city more autonomy.
The once-separate governments for the city and parish consolidated in 1996, but the merger has come under increasing criticism for giving council members who represent rural districts too much power over city-specific issues, including oversight of a city budget funded solely with taxes collected within the city limits.
Voters in 2011 rejected a plan to return to two separate governments, but Durel and others have since proposed a tweaked version of consolidated government in which only council members who represent the city vote on city issues.
That idea has gained little traction.
Durel said he feels so strongly about the issue that he would never vote for a new tax unless changes are made.
Those unresolved issues are left for a new administration.
Come Monday, Durel — who gave his age as “a very young 62” — ends his 12-year stint as a politician.
He has no specific plans but is considering consulting work related to municipal fiber-optic systems, many of which look to Lafayette’s LUS Fiber as a model.
“I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t cause me to jump out of bed in the morning,” he said.