The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday declined to override Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s vetoes of the council’s previous moves to slash funding for two department director positions.

The two positions are to oversee the Lafayette Utilities System and LUS Fiber, which are joined under the leadership of a single director. Robideaux tried to split the agencies in his 2019 budget proposal by funding two director positions.

Councilman Bruce Conque spearheaded amendments reducing the salaries to $1 apiece, reasoning the agency reorganization shouldn’t happen until the details of an LUS privatization proposal become clear.

The council passed the amendments Sept. 6. Robideaux subsequently vetoed them, based in part on a legal opinion issued by City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott.

Conque initially argued Tuesday that council members were bound by fiduciary duty to override the vetoes, but he eventually accepted Robideaux’s promise not to move forward with hiring directors any time soon. Interim Director Jeff Stewart replaced the retired Terry Huval last summer, and Robideaux said he’s pleased with Stewart’s performance.

Escott, speaking at the council meeting Tuesday, acknowledged conflicting city-parish charter provisions authorize the council to appropriate funds while also giving the mayor-president the power to set departmental director salaries. Because the charter is explicit with respect to the mayor-president’s salary-setting power for directors, it supersedes the council’s general appropriation authority, Escott said.

Additionally, Escott said, the current charter does not subject director salaries to council approval, unlike previous versions of the charter.

“The provision was purposeful and done for a reason,” Escott said.

With its appropriation authority, the council can adjust director salaries within reason, Escott said, but reducing a director salary to $1 doesn’t meet the reasonableness test because it is “essentially a defunding of that position.”

Robideaux said Tuesday the legal implications of reducing the salaries to $1 give him “the willies,” and that he is open to working with the council to fill the positions on an agreed-upon timeline. Robideaux said he hasn’t started interviewing and is in no hurry to do so, and suggested the council introduce a resolution guiding him on the appointments.

Robideaux also criticized Conque’s amendments, saying they were done “on the fly” without consulting the administration. That comment earned a rebuke from Conque, who read an Aug. 22 memo asking Robideaux not to push forward with splitting the departments while the privatization deal was still pending. Robideaux hadn’t responded, Conque said.

But Conque came around to Robideaux’s suggestion to sponsor a resolution, which he said he would do at the Nov. 6 council meeting. Conque voted with the seven other council members not to override the vetoes. Councilwoman Liz Hebert was absent.

“This is all based on your word you are not moving forward,” Conque said to Robideaux.

Separately, the council overrode Robideaux's vetoes regarding employee raises. Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux on Sept. 6 convinced four others in a razor-thin margin to vote in favor of a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees.

Robdieaux vetoed out of concern for the city of Lafayette's finances, even though the city's fund balance — unlike the parish's — is flush.

Councilmen Jared Bellard and William Theriot maintained their votes against the raises Tuesday. Councilwoman Nanette Cook switched to vote in support, making a final tally 6-2 in support of the raises. Hebert, who was absent, previously voted against the raises. 

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