LAFAYETTE — City-Parish President Joey Durel, who walked into his second term four years ago without opposition, now faces a challenger who is questioning Durel about the vision and openness that have been the incumbent’s calling card.
Mike Stagg made his campaign official less than two months before the Oct. 22 election, but he has quickly gone on the offensive.
“Four years ago, when he (Durel) got elected without opposition, I think that led to a lot of problems that manifested themselves in this term,” Stagg said.
Stagg has criticized Durel for an administration that is influenced too heavily by a small group of business leaders and for resting on early accomplishments while not pushing forward with major new initiatives.
“We can’t afford a caretaker government. We have to constantly be looking to invest in our future,” Stagg said.
That statement goes to the heart of the campaign being mounted by Durel, who said that the job of city-parish president is less about managing the day-to-day affairs of government than it is about vision.
“I’ve come to realize that this position is someone who is really looking into the future and dreaming about the future,” Durel said.
Durel said that during his first two terms, he has led a parish with one of the lowest unemployment rates and most robust growth in the region while pursuing initiatives to improve the economy and the quality of life.
Durel cited as major accomplishments the development of the city-owned fiber-optic Internet service (LUS Fiber), improved staffing and technology at the Police Department, and the city’s purchase of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s 100-acre “horse farm” on Johnston Street to transform the property into a central park.
Durel said he would like to see the “horse farm” concept through to completion and push forward a new initiative to develop a “comprehensive plan” for Lafayette Parish.
A comprehensive plan is a long-term, detailed guide for growth and development, addressing issues ranging from traffic and drainage to where to build parks and how best to manage new subdivisions and commercial developments.
“I see a lot of money spent correcting problems and a lot of heartache caused by lack of planning,” Durel said.
Stagg, a technology consultant, has been a vocal supporter of LUS Fiber and said he believes the city-owned fiber optic system and the plan to turn the “horse farm” into a central park were both good ideas.
But Stagg argues that the Durel administration has missed other opportunities to push the community forward, including making better use of Internet speeds in Lafayette that are now among the fastest in the nation.
“The infrastructure investment has been made, but what are you doing to do with it,” Stagg said.
Durel said the focus over the past few years has been to roll out a quality and financially viable system and that the free market will discover ways to use it if local government offers a business-friendly environment.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it (LUS Fiber) is having a positive effect on attracting people here,” Durel said of what he sees as a growing technology sector in Lafayette. “… I believe that we have built the infrastructure, and the entrepreneurs should take advantage of it.”
Stagg also spoke of the need for nonconventional ideas to address traffic problems and a desire to wean the city off of coal-fired power.
He said city-parish government should begin serious discussions of a commuter rail line for what he called the “day-trippers” who live in the suburbs surrounding the city of Lafayette and drive in to work everyday.
Stagg said Lafayette should also begin shifting away from reliance on the coal-fired Rodemacher power plant near Boyce that Lafayette partially owns.
Lafayette has natural gas power plants within the city limits, but more than half of its electricity travels down transmission lines from the Rodemacher plant, which provides cheaper power.
As federal pollution standards become more strict, coal power will only grow more expensive, Stagg said.
He said city-parish government should explore a shift to alternative energy sources, expanding the use of natural gas, mounting solar panels on all government buildings and erecting wind turbine generators on city-owned land.
“The energy we need is all here, between natural gas, wind and solar,” Stagg said. “None of this is all or nothing, but I think this is a way to transition off coal.”
Stagg also said he would seek to change Lafayette’s governing charter to require competitive bidding on all contracts.
The contract issue has been a staple of Stagg’s campaign, and he argues that Durel has too much power in deciding who does work for city-parish government.
Under current local law, Durel selects which companies receive contracts for professional services, such as engineering and architecture.
A committee made up of three City-Parish Council members and two Durel appointments recommends who should receive the contracts, but Durel has the ultimate say.
Stagg said all contracts should be put out to competitive bid and reviewed by the council.
“Comparison shopping works for everybody else,” Stagg said.
The professional services contract process was a source of criticism before Durel took office, and Durel said he overhauled the process when he arrived to make it more transparent.
But Durel also questioned the wisdom of opening all contracts up for competitive bid, saying the cheapest rate for services such as engineering does not always get the best service.
A better strategy, he said, is to identify good, reputable firms and then negotiate a fair contract.
OCCUPATION: independent information technology consultant. Worked in the past as a journalist and political consultant.
EDUCATION: studied English and journalism in college. No degree.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature, governor and congress.
CAMPAIGN MONEY: none listed in the most recent state campaign finance filings for the period of Jan. 1 though Sept. 12.
OCCUPATION: city-parish president. Formerly owned a chain of area pet stores and an Arby’s restaurant franchise.
EDUCATION: B.S. in business administration from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: won the city-parish president’s seat in 2003. Re-elected in 2007 without opposition.
CAMPAIGN MONEY: started the year with $140,938 in the bank, raised another $137,000 and has spent $143,787, according the state campaign finance report for the period of Jan. 1 though Sept. 12.