With less than nine months left in his first term, Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux announced at a press conference Friday that he won't seek re-election this fall.
A former state legislator, Robideaux took office in January 2016, becoming the third person to hold the position since the city and parish governments were consolidated in 1996.
At the press conference, Robideaux outlined his achievements as mayor-president.
“Lafayette is positioned to reap the rewards of sound fiscal management. Our future is very exciting," Robideaux said. "I’m proud of where we are and how we got here given the economic circumstances.
"I have done what I was elected to do and have decided not to seek re-election this fall.”
Robideaux said he will serve out the remainder of this term. He took no questions from reporters before leaving the room.
Robideaux previously said he was seeking a second term as mayor-president. His bowing out leaves only one announced candidate, a political newcomer, although qualifying does not begin until Aug. 6.
Carlee Alm-LaBar, who was a director under Robideaux and his predecessor, announced in March she was running for the position.
Alm-LaBar said Friday she was surprised by Robideaux's announcement.
"Joel has been a public servant for 15 years," she said. "There are probably a lot of folks in a little bit of shock today and have admiration for what he's given up. I have a lot of respect for him and this was surely a difficult decision."
Alm-LaBar said she will continue to get her message out to voters and remain focused on the future of Lafayette Parish, from drainage solutions that are more innovative to downtown Lafayette issues to protecting the future of Lafayette Utilities System.
"That's what the race is about regardless of who is in the race," she said. "For me, that doesn't change."
Robideaux, a native of Lafayette, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives during a special election in the spring of 2004 to replace Jerry Luke LeBlanc, who stepped down to join the administration of Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Robideaux was term limited by 2015 when he ran for and won the mayor-president's election.
The past three years haven't been easy. Oil prices crashed around the time Robideaux took office, which meant layoffs in the oilfield and a drag on the local economy. Seven months into his first year as mayor-president, heavy rain fell on Lafayette Parish and surrounding communities, sitting atop the area for days, flooding hundreds of homes. The flooding brought to light the poor condition of the parish's drainage system from long-delayed maintenance due in part to a lack of money in the parish.
A certified public accountant by trade and fiscally conservative, Robideaux looked for ways to do more with the money the city and parish had, with drainage maintenance topping the list of needs.
In November 2017, voters approve an initiative proposed by Robideaux to use $9 million of a surplus from an animal control, mosquito control and public health fund to tackle the backlogged drainage maintenance, and re-dedicate 1.10 mills (about $2.5 million a year) from that fund every year to drainage. He was criticized, even by some of his usual supporters, for including on the ballot initiative the re-dedication of .25 mills (about $500,000 a year) from the existing fund to a new economic arts and culture initiative, CREATE.
Robideaux's problems were only beginning. In mid-2018, news reports revealed he had signed a letter allowing a Baton Rouge-based group, Bernhard Capital Partners/NextGen, to research and study the city-owned LUS with the intent of allowing the company to manage the utility operations. The City-Parish Council and public were blindsided by the revelation. The council voted to oppose any such deal and included in a voter-approved Dec. 8 charter amendment a clause prohibiting the sale, lease or management of LUS by a third party without first getting voter approval.
Also in 2018, Robideaux found himself caught between supporters of a planned Drag Queen Story Time at the public library and conservatives who vehemently opposed the event. Robideaux opposed the event.
He drew the ire of some City-Parish Council members in October 2018 when, following months of no response, he came out opposing two proposed new property taxes — for the parish jail and courthouse and fire protection in unincorporated areas — in the final weeks before the election. The taxes were defeated by voters.
The latest controversy involves Robideaux aide Marcus Bruno. The Acadiana Advocate reported in February that Bruno received a $35,000 loan in Oct. 2016 from a nonprofit group, Lafayette Neighborhoods' Economic Development Corporation. The group operates a revolving loan fund using federal money allocated through the city-parish administration. After receiving the loan, Bruno helped the group get additional grant money from the Robideaux administration.
Robideaux blasted The Advocate's findings, defending Bruno. He later requested opinions from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Louisiana Ethics Administration on the propriety of the loan. Those opinions are either pending or have not be made public at this time.