Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry fired back Thursday at the Lafayette City-Parish Council and its attorneys over whether precinct errors associated with a Dec. 8 home rule charter amendment can be corrected with a council vote or if a vote of the public is required.
"Contrary to the city attorney's 11-page memo attempting to correct his own mistake, this is a cut and dried issue," Landry wrote in a press release Thursday.
The council on Tuesday took the advice of its legal team over an AG's opinion and approved an ordinance making corrections to precincts associated with new city and parish council districts created by the Dec. 8 charter amendment.
A four-person city-parish legal team, led by City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott, researched the matter for three weeks before producing an 11-page report that recommended the council adopt an ordinance to correct the precincts.
A few hours before Tuesday's council meeting, Assistant Attorney General Carey T. Jones issued a two-page opinion 24 hours after receiving a request for the opinion from state Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville. Jones' opinion advised a home rule charter amendment is needed to correct the problem and that requires a vote of the people.
Landry, in issuing his statement Thursday, said he was trying to clarify misinformation about the opinion.
The Louisiana Constitution, he wrote, requires a vote of the people to amend a home rule charter, not a vote of the council.
"Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but that does not mean that all opinions are entitled to equal weight," Landry wrote. "Unlike the city attorney's memo, our opinion carries constitutional weight. Historically, the courts have sided with attorney general's opinions (save very rare exceptions)."
Jones, who wrote the opinion, spent nearly three decades as a contract attorney for the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office, dealing with local governments and elections, Landry wrote. He now is deputy director of the civil division of the AG's office.
Landry said his office has issued many opinions regarding home rule charters and amendments to home rule charters are only valid when approved by voters according to the Louisiana Constitution.
"It is important to always note that this problem arose after taking the city attorney's original advice," he added.
In the 11-page city-parish legal team's memo dated March 10, Escott outlined the pros and cons of a new election versus a council ordinance.
Regarding an election, he wrote, the charter specifically states at least one year must pass before a charter amendment issue can be returned to the ballot so a charter amendment to correct precincts, which is essentially the same issue as the Dec. 8, 2018, vote, can't go before voters until Dec. 8, 2019.
Elections to fill the new city and parish council seats are scheduled for October and November.
Escott further argued that an election "is neither required nor appropriate" to correct the discrepancies in the precinct and council district descriptions. The appropriate correction, written in the charter, is to reapportion council election districts through a council ordinance, he wrote.
One of the major disagreements is whether correcting precinct and district lines is the same as reapportionment.
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