Lafayette city-parish president candidates Joel Robideaux and Dee Stanley spent Monday evening slipping in jabs at each other, despite their general agreement on most of the big-picture questions posed at a debate sponsored by the Acadiana Press Club.
Robideaux, a longtime state legislator and accountant, and Stanley, who has served 12 years as outgoing City-Parish President Joey Durel’s chief administrative officer, generally expressed shared views on policy, but they spent much of the hourlong debate questioning each other’s ability to lead.
Stanley said he has the boots-on-the-ground experience in local government to continue the momentum of the Durel administration and tried to link Robideaux to a state Legislature often viewed as dysfunctional.
Robideaux said his tenure in the Legislature gives him the experience needed to bring more state dollars to Lafayette, and he said the Durel administration — and by extension Stanley — has been held back by strained relationships with state government and the smaller municipalities in Lafayette Parish.
Responding to a question on how each would have acted differently from Durel over the past 12 years, Robideaux talked of what he viewed as the Durel administration’s lack of interest in traveling to Baton Rouge to lobby the Legislature for state projects, trips he said other local officials routinely make.
“We need to understand the role that Baton Rouge plays, we need to understand that most of the road money we get comes from Baton Rouge, and we need to make the effort to be part of that process,” Robideaux said.
Stanley countered that Durel brought together the Acadiana legislative delegation every year to discuss local priorities.
“Maybe it’s just that they are not listening,” Stanley said. “Saying that we don’t communicate, saying that we don’t come to Baton Rouge — even when we do, sometimes people don’t listen.”
Robideaux shot back: “I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been invited to the administration’s office.”
When asked how to encourage development on Lafayette’s north side, both candidates agreed the area needs more attention, but Stanley said the major gateways in north Lafayette that Robideaux talked of improving are state-owned road corridors.
“I’m glad you are focusing on it now because for the 12 years you’ve been in the Legislature, you didn’t focus on it at all. Those are three state corridors. The state of Louisiana won’t even cut its grass. We spent over $3 million in the past 12 years just trying to cut the grass so it looks a little bit better than it looks,” Stanley said.
Robideaux said Breaux Bridge and Scott “haven’t blamed the state for their entrances off Interstate 10.”
“I think we can all admit if you are driving from Houston you will pull off there because of what they’ve done, and the state may still own those corridors, but they’ve taken the initiative to make it something they are proud of,” he said.
On the issue of whether Lafayette should revisit its consolidated form of government, Stanley and Robideaux both said tweaks are needed to address complaints within the city of Lafayette that City-Parish Council members representing areas outside the city have too much say over city-only issues.
But Robideaux used his answer to take another swing.
“One of the issues of this administration is that the relationship with the council and the relationship with elected leaders in the other municipalities has not allowed for that discussion to really even occur,” he said.
Stanley said the only real conflict has been with the city of Broussard, a relationship strained even more by a lawsuit the smaller city filed against Lafayette over access to water from Lafayette’s public utility service.
He defended the Durel administration’s working relationship with other elected officials
“They’ve contacted me,” Robideaux said. “And it’s not quite as hunky-dory as Dee is making it sound.”
One stark difference that emerged was on one of the more critical issues facing city-parish government: How to pay for roads, drainage and other infrastructure in a rural area where the demands of ever-growing subdivisions have outpaced the tax revenue available beyond the city limits.
Stanley said the only real options are temporary taxes or tolls dedicated to the most critical road and drainage projects, while Robideaux said he doubts any tax would be successful and the best chance is to seek state dollars.
“Ultimately, if you are going to get funding for those outlying areas, guess what? You need to go to the state,” Robideaux said. “And guess who you need going to the state? Somebody who has a relationship who doesn’t think everything the state does is bad.”
Stanley said it seems unlikely any significant road funding will flow from Baton Rouge in the near future, considering the price of oil and how much of the state budget depends on it.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and maybe we’ll get that money, and the hundreds of millions of dollars of manna from heaven will continue to pour in,” Stanley said. “But I’m reading different newspapers, apparently, and getting different information on what money is available, so my plan is to do what we can locally to take care of our own.”
Most of Monday’s debate was given to extended answers to policy questions, but the candidates also responded to a series of rapid-fire questions in a format that allowed for only a yes-or-no answer with brief explanations.
Do the candidates support ending the moratorium on new bars in downtown Lafayette?
Both said no.
Should the city pursue a local ordinance to decriminalize marijuana?
Again, both no.
Should city-parish government continue to provide supplemental funding for the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Festival International and Festivals Acadiens et Créoles.
Both said yes.
One surprising answer was to the yes-no question of whether the Lafayette Police Department should investigate its own officer-involved shootings, rather than calling in an outside agency.
Both candidates said no, which is at odds with the current administration’s policy of having the local department investigate such incidents.