A state senator has asked for a Louisiana Attorney General opinion on whether the Lafayette City-Parish Council can change new city and parish council districts and voter precincts with a council ordinance or whether a home rule charter amendment, which requires a vote of the people, is necessary.
State Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Landry on Monday requesting the opinion and notified the council via e-mail Monday, writing, "I hope the request of opinion however it turns out, helps you with your decision."
Voters across Lafayette Parish in a low-turnout Dec. 8 election approved a home rule charter amendment splitting the nine-person City-Parish Council into separate five-person city and parish councils for the first time since consolidation in 1996.
After the election results were certified, it was discovered that some of the council district lines and voter precincts listed in the ordinance calling for the election don't match with maps presented to the public. Some in the community, including some council members, believe the errors and discrepancies should invalidate the Dec. 8 election results or at least require another vote of the public to amend the charter. Others, including some council members, believe a council ordinance can correct the problems, since the Dec. 8 ballot language did not include district and precinct descriptions, only whether voters wanted to split the council into two.
The city-parish legal team researched the matter and concluded in an 11-page opinion that an ordinance of the council is the best and only proper way to solve the problems.
A four-person Lafayette Consolidated Government legal team, in an opinion released Friday to the City-Parish Council, concluded the "only appr…
The council voted March 12 in a 5-4 decision not to ask for an attorney general opinion. It instead introduced two ordinance that would correct the precinct and district lines and descriptions. The ordinances are up for final adoption March 26.
Qualifying for the Oct. 12 election for new city and parish council seats is Aug. 6-8, so time is of the essence in correcting the problems.
In his letter to Landry, Hensgens wrote that some existing precincts were inadvertently omitted from the amended charter with the result that some voters "will not be permitted to vote in any elections called for the city, parish and/or consolidated city/parish government. The voters who will be so disenfranchised are voters that I represent."
Hensgens cited a section of the charter that states districts shall remain in place until changed by reapportionment. The proposed ordinances, he wrote, are "styled as a reapportionment ordinance in what appears to be an attempt to disguise its true purpose of correcting omissions from the district descriptions" in the amended home rule charter.
The state senator cited the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 and a 1994 council decision to require a charter amendment to change district and precinct lines.
City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott, at the March 12 council meeting, said he's "pretty confident" his 11-page opinion is correct and a council ordinance is the proper solution.
"The AG and his office and staff, with all due respect," he said, "they are lawyers just like we are lawyers. They're not always 100 percent right, just like me."
An attorney general opinion is not binding on the council and is only an advisory opinion, Escott said at the time.
The council meets at 5:30 p.m. March 26 at 705 W. University Ave. to consider the ordinances. The meeting is open to the public and public comment is allowed.
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