It might seem like the race for Lafayette city-parish president has been going on since shortly after Joey Durel began his third and final term in 2012.
Dee Stanley, the outgoing city-parish president’s longtime chief administrative officer, began raising money for his run three years ago.
Joel Robideaux, an accountant and state legislator, already had expressed interest in the position by then, and both were firmly settled in to the race by last fall.
The contest will be decided Saturday in a campaign that at times has focused more on Durel than anything else.
The two candidates have made the tried-and-true campaign pledges of improving traffic and setting priorities. But while Stanley touts his ability to keep the momentum of the Durel administration going, Robideaux questions whether Durel and his team would have been more effective had they focused on building stronger relationships with the City-Parish Council and with elected leaders of the five smaller municipalities in the parish.
“People want to see a council and administration that work together and have the kind of relationship that moves the community forward,” Robideaux said. “... There is a stark contrast between the current administration’s leadership style and my style in that regard.”
He said some leaders outside the city of Lafayette complain that the City-Parish President’s Office has been more focused on the city at the expense of the parish.
“The decision-makers and the elected leaders throughout the parish want to have a better relationship with the parish president. They feel it’s gotten to the point where that position is now the mayor of the city of Lafayette only,” Robideaux said.
It is no secret Durel has locked horns with Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais, and Durel often has been at odds with at least two city-parish councilmen with large rural constituencies: William Theriot and Jared Bellard.
Stanley counters that strained relationships are common in politics at any level, and in the end, the Durel administration deserves credit for a long list of accomplishments.
Those include the development of city-owned fiber-optic service and the purchase of the Horse Farm property on Johnson Street for a central park, he said. In addition, he said, Durel is leaving city-parish government with a healthy reserve fund as a financial cushion should weak oil prices continue pulling down the local economy.
While Robideaux has talked of the Durel administration’s strained relationships with other local elected officials, Stanley has worked to tie Robideaux to a governor and state Legislature that have not been held in the highest regard in recent years.
“I think it’s smoke and mirrors that somebody who has been joined to Bobby Jindal for eight years and what he has done fiscally is going to be critical of Joey Durel and the job he has done in the parish,” Stanley said.
Beyond their respective jabs at Durel and state government, the two have substantive differences in their approach to policy, even though they agree on many of the big-picture issues.
Both candidates say the constitution-like city-parish charter should be tweaked to give more autonomy to the city of Lafayette, though neither advocates a specific proposal to address the issue.
The once-separate governments for Lafayette Parish and the city of Lafayette merged in 1996, but there have been complaints for several years that council members with larger rural constituencies have too much say over city-specific issues such as oversight of the city-owned utility system and the budgets for the city’s police and fire departments.
Robideaux and Stanley also see promise in efforts by city-parish government to encourage denser developments in Lafayette’s urban core — where water lines, roads and other infrastructure already exist — but both candidates stress they have no intention of making development in rural areas more difficult or expensive.
They diverge a bit on how to pay for needed infrastructure in rural areas of the parish where tax revenue has not kept pace with needs.
There are no full-time fire departments serving rural areas, no dedicated recreation tax to fund parks, scattered sewer service, little money to maintain existing roads and ditches, and next to nothing for new projects.
Robideaux has said rural residents likely have no stomach for new taxes and that the best source of funding for projects in unincorporated areas of the parish is the state Legislature.
He said his experience there will help secure a bigger share of state funding for Lafayette.
State dollars should play a role, Stanley said, but the state budget is already strained and addressing the needs for rural infrastructure might require new local revenue, possibly from taxes, tolls or user fees that are temporary and tied to specific projects.
“We have to find out what is palatable,” Stanley said.
On the proposed smoking ban in Lafayette bars, which the City-Parish Council shot down in May, Robideaux said he would let the issue rest.
“I’m just not quite convinced that government should step in and say, ‘You have to do this,’ ” he said.
Stanley leans in the other direction.
“I am generally for it, because I think the community is for it,” he said. “But I would like to have that discussion with the new council again before making a decision.”
Asked about the prospects of tearing down the old federal courthouse downtown, which has long been vacant, both candidates agree it should be razed. However, they said they would not want to follow through on plans for a mixed-use development on the site without first securing another location for a new parish courthouse.
“I realize, based on what we’ve heard from our council, that has to come first,” Stanley said.
The lack of an alternative site has been a major sticking point with council members, and Durel has been critical of those who don’t want to part with the old federal courthouse property until another location is secured for a new parish courthouse.
“The practical truth is, you are not going to be able to get the council to move on that issue unless there is buy-in from all parties,” Robideaux said. “That, to me, has been the biggest shortcoming of Durel as it relates to this issue.”
The campaign had been relatively clean until last week, when the conservative political action committee Louisiana Victory Fund said in a news release that it had filed a state ethics complaint against Stanley for allegedly using city-parish government’s automated “robocall” service for a campaign message, saying that would be a violation of ethics rules that bar the use of public resources for political campaigns.
The PAC put on its website a blurry video of a phone’s caller ID screen purportedly showing a city-parish government number while audio played of Stanley’s campaign call.
The PAC alleges the call went out about 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8.
City-parish government records indicate a robocall went out at that time, but it was a message informing residents about an upcoming zoning meeting. Stanley provided a receipt for a $1,002 payment he made to a private company for a campaign robocall on Oct. 9.
“Unfortunately, unscrupulous Robideaux campaign supporters seem to be accusing LCG (Lafayette Consolidated Government) of aiding another candidate of using LCG resources for a campaign robocall,” Durel wrote in an email.
“This is basically accusing LCG of what would seem to be a criminal act. ... What a sad time for Lafayette.”
The Louisiana Victory Fund has endorsed Robideaux, but Robideaux’s campaign denied any association or communication with the PAC.