Attorneys for Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and a Lafayette businessman filed a request Wednesday for the Louisiana Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit over whether the Lafayette City-Parish Council can correct errors in new city council district boundaries with an ordinance.
They also asked the supreme court for an expedited hearing so precinct changes can be made before July 22 to prepare for qualifying for the fall city council elections, which begins Aug. 6.
"We applied for a Writ from the Louisiana Supreme Court to receive definitive clarity on this critical issue, because this is not just about Lafayette but all 60 home rule charter jurisdictions in Louisiana and how they govern," Ardoin said in a statement. "The precedent set by the court will have significant immediate and long-term statewide ramifications, and I am doing due diligence on behalf of the people of Louisiana.”
The Lafayette City-Parish Council in March adopted an ordinance correcting errors in boundary descriptions for city of Lafayette council districts created with a Dec. 8 home rule charter amendment approved by voters. The amendment created, for the first time since consolidation in 1996, separate city and parish governing councils.
In was discovered after the election that maps showing the city council districts did not match descriptions for the districts, leaving about 330 voters without a city district and giving some parish voters voting rights in the city.
Lafayette businessman Keith Kishbaugh, who says he is a candidate for either the city or parish council, filed a lawsuit that was joined by the Secretary of State to overturn the council ordinance. They argued that the council lacks the authority to change the districts because they are listed in the charter, so another charter amendment approved by a vote of the people is needed to correct the errors.
Fifteenth Judicial District Judge John Trahan ruled in May the ordinance was the proper way to correct the errors. Last week, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal issued a 2-1 decision backing that lower court ruling.
Assistant Louisiana Attorney General Carey Jones wrote that Ardoin filed the writ Wednesday to the supreme court because the decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal "is certain to erode the constitutional assurance to voters that the local governing body of a parish or municipality cannot alter the terms of their home rule charter without their consent."
To arrive at its decision, Jones wrote, the appeals court "alters the understood meaning of 'reapportionment' to allow the Lafayette City-Parish Government to remedy substantial, material errors in a duly adopted amendment to its Home Rule Charter via ordinance."
Reapportionment is done to shift districts to reflect population changes with a census, not to correct errors in district boundaries, the attorney general's counsel argues.
Jones further alleges the appeals court erred in ruling that voters did not vote on council districts listed in the charter, just on the language in the ballot proposition to split the nine-person city-parish council into separate city and parish councils.
Although attorneys for Ardoin and Kishbaugh denied in court they want the Dec. 8 home rule charter election overturned, Kishbaugh told The Acadiana Advocate in April when he filed the lawsuit that overturning the election was his goal.
"I'm hoping to fix the fix and have things revert back to where they were prior to the December election," he said in April. "I'd like to see it done properly, in a gubernatorial election instead of three weeks before Christmas with a low voter turnout election."
Another vote on the charter amendment to create separate city and parish councils cannot be held before Dec. 8 because of a restriction in the charter. That would push the city and parish council elections into 2020 or later. Terms of the current city-parish council members expire in early January.
Mark Pope, who describes himself as either a candidate for the new city council district 1 or the city-parish council district 5, said Wednesday he was preparing to file a brief with the state supreme court asking that they delay the new city and parish council elections until 2020.
"We do not have adequate time to plan and execute a campaign," he said. "It's very near impossible" to campaign in just 2 ½ months.
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, candidates for Lafayette City Council can purchase lists of registered voters in their districts, Tyler Brey, press secretary for Adroin's office, said.
The Secretary of State's Office was withholding voter lists for the city council districts until the appeal was heard.