Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is asking a judge to halt fall elections for the new city and parish councils and throw out all or part of a Dec. 8 voter-approved Lafayette Parish charter amendment.
The Attorney General's Office filed a petition Wednesday to intervene on Ardoin's behalf in a lawsuit filed April 5 by Lafayette businessman Keith Kishbaugh.
Kishbaugh's lawsuit against Lafayette Consolidated Government asks a judge to throw out an ordinance approved by the City-Parish Council in March correcting precinct errors introduced with the Dec. 8 charter amendment.
Ardoin says invalidating the ordinance won't solve the problem. He is asking a judge to overturn the ordinance and either invalidate parts of the amended charter or declare the entire Dec. 8 charter amendment "null and void and without legal effect."
In addition, Ardoin wants the Oct. 12 and Nov. 16 city and parish council elections halted.
Fifteenth Judicial District Court Judge John Trahan is scheduled to hear the case at 10 a.m. Thursday in Lafayette.
In the Dec. 8 election with 22 percent voter turnout, 2,414 more Lafayette Parish voters supported amending the home rule charter than not. Only 34, 724 cast ballots.
The gist of the charter amendment was to split the nine-district City-Parish Council into separate city and parish councils for the first time since they were consolidated in 1996. It would give city of Lafayette residents their own city council for the first time since 1996. Lafayette, the most populous city in the parish, is the only municipality without its own mayor and council.
But in the council's haste to get the charter amendment on the Dec. 8, 2018, ballot, some precinct descriptions in the ordinance calling the election were incorrect. One precinct in the city of Lafayette was completely omitted.
Precinct discrepancies were discovered in December, but officials believed at the time they were minor and could be corrected internally. By February, though, it became apparent to some officials that the errors were more extensive than previously thought.
At a meeting between Ardoin and other state and local officials, Ardoin — who is the state's chief elections official — said he believed a new vote would be needed on the Lafayette charter amendment to correct the precinct problems. He later backed off by saying the decision on how to correct the problem was a local one.
After researching the charter, state laws and attorney general opinions, a four-person city-parish legal team, in an 11-page memo, advised the council that an ordinance is the best way to correct the precinct errors.
On March 26, one day after a state senator from Vermilion Parish requested an attorney general opinion, Jeff Landry's office issued a two-page opinion saying a new election on the charter was needed. Hours later, the council took the advice of its own legal team and adopted an ordinance 5-4 to correct the errors.
Qualifying for the new city and parish council seats begins Aug. 6. The precinct errors need to be corrected before qualifying so candidates know in which district they have to qualify.
If Trahan throws out the council ordinance and calls for a new public vote on the charter amendment, council elections could not take place until 2020.
The charter amendment also protects Lafayette Utilities System, requiring a vote of the public before the city-owned utility can be sold, leased or managed by a third party. If the Dec. 8 charter election is thrown out, that protection is removed.