The Lafayette City-Parish Council took the advice of its attorneys over that of the Louisiana Attorney General's Office on Tuesday in approving an ordinance to correct precinct errors associated with a voter-approved Dec. 8 home rule charter measure that creates separate city and parish councils.
Attorney General Jeff Landry weighed in during a radio show Wednesday afternoon. The Current reported Landry, on that radio show, defended his assistant's opinion which advised the council it must call another election to resolve precinct errors instead of doing it through a council ordinance.
Landry, The Current reported, chastised the council for ignoring the AG's opinion "at their own peril."
People on both sides of the issue have suggested a lawsuit may be filed no matter which option the council chose to fix the problem.
Kevin Blanchard of the Fix the Charter PAC said from his perspective the council fixed the precinct problems Tuesday and voters who were inadvertently left off the maps and descriptions can vote in the October election for city and parish council members.
"Right now, we can have qualifying in August unless somebody wants to sue and stop it," Blanchard said.
He hinted that the PAC may consider action of its own if someone tries to overturn results of the Dec. 8 election by calling for another election on the charter amendment.
"The PAC," Blanchard said, "will do whatever it takes to make sure the results of that election are final."
The precinct descriptions and maps of the new city and parish council districts were not part of the Dec. 8 ballot language. The errors and the omission of at least one city precinct wasn't discovered until the election results were certified, leading to debate over whether another home rule charter vote is needed or whether the errors could be fixed with a council ordinance.
An assistant attorney general, a few hours before Tuesday's council meeting, issued a two-page opinion in response to a request submitted Monday by state Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, who represents only 16 precincts in Lafayette Parish, according to Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.
Hensgens, who was elected Nov. 6, asked for an opinion on whether the precinct errors could be corrected by council ordinance or requires a vote of residents. The AG's office opined a charter amendment is needed, which requires a vote of the public.
City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott and his legal team spent three weeks researching the charter, state laws and AG opinions in preparing an 11-page opinion to the council in which they determined the only way to correct the precincts is with a council ordinance.
Escott restated his confidence Tuesday in the local attorneys' opinion over that of the AG's office.
"It does not change my opinion at all.," he said. "It does not affect my confidence level ... in my opinion."
An attorney general opinion is not legally binding on the council. Escott, as part of his 11-page research, presented the council with a previous attorney general opinion that said a public vote is not allowed to change precincts.
The council rejected an attempt by Councilman William Theriot to defer the ordinance 30 days for Escott to meet with the AG's office to iron out the matter and instead adopted an ordinance correcting the precincts. Voting against changing the precincts by ordinance were Theriot, Council Chairman Jared Bellard and Councilman Pat Lewis.
Unless a lawsuit is filed challenging the council's action, elections for the new city and parish councils will be Oct. 12. Qualifying for those races begins Aug. 6. The winners would take office in January 2020.