The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Friday released highly anticipated revisions to proposed charter amendments that would split the council into separate bodies representing the parish and the city.
Noteworthy changes include restrictions on term-limited council members, alterations to the proposed city council district map and a requirement that city voters approve any contract with an outside entity to manage the Lafayette Utilities System.
Council members are expected to vote on the proposal Aug. 7. If it passes, the measure will go before voters on the Dec. 8 ballot. The new system would take effect in 2020.
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The new provision on term limits fulfills one aspect of pledges by Councilwoman Liz Hebert and Councilwoman Nanette Cook, who want to prevent any sitting council members from exploiting the new system to serve more terms than presently allowed.
The revisions prohibit four council members whose term limits are about to expire from from running for seats on either of the new councils. However, the newly-released proposal does not count years already served by others on the existing council toward term limits should they be elected to any new council. This means a council member who has already served one or two terms could go on to serve a full three terms on either of the new councils, effectively resetting the term-limit clock.
Hebert and Cook have both said they would introduce a term rollover provision, and could still do so with a floor amendment immediately prior to the vote. Councilman Bruce Conque, one of the authors of the proposal, said he expected Hebert or Cook, or both, to offer a floor amendment.
“I think that’s critical in getting support,” Conque said, referring to all the provisions regarding term limits.
Cook said in a text message she is not prepared to make any statements about the proposed changes. Hebert did not return a call.
The new proposed city council district maps show two districts with populations that are more than 60 percent black, which fulfills the stated goals of the existing council’s two black members, Kenneth Boudreaux and Pat Lewis. Both of their existing consolidated district exceed that threshold.
The initial maps caused some tension between Lewis and Boudreaux, as the district Boudreaux would represent was nearly three quarters minority while Lewis’s was barely more than 50 percent. Boudreaux, one of the authors of the proposal, claimed Lewis was more interested in keeping downtown areas than in strong minority representation.
Lewis, while not denying the claim, said he wanted to meet the 60 percent threshold while also keeping his constituency intact. While meeting the representation threshold, the new maps carve out the downtown areas along University Avenue south of Cameron Street that Lewis currently represents.
Lewis and Boudreaux on Friday each posted on Facebook a photo of themselves together at a National League of Cities conference saying they are “better together.”
Reached by telephone, Lewis declined comment because he hadn’t yet reviewed the new maps. Boudreaux did not respond to a request for comment.
Also included in the revisions is a requirement that any management agreement involving LUS would need voter approval to succeed. Conque pledged Tuesday to include that change while speaking at a meeting of the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority.
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That change was born of revelations this month that Mayor-President Joel Robideaux is exploring the possibility of contracting with Bernhard Capital Partners to manage the electric division of the utilities system.
At the utilities authority meeting this week, Robideaux insisted that a nonbinding letter of intent he signed contemplating such an arrangement was strictly to get a handle on the value of the electric division. The agreement entitles Bernhard to inspect LUS Electric assets and to return a valuation that will become City of Lafayette property.
The move was necessary in part because City-Parish Council in February did not approve a $240 million bond issue, half of which was intended for additional power generation, Robideaux said. The council instead approved $70 million for routine upgrades.
Supplying the city with sufficient power, upgrading aging infrastructure and deciding whether to convert a coal-powered plant the city jointly owns are part of a “serious discussion” about LUS that needs to occur, Robideaux said.
“If we are not going to get the money to produce new generation, we need the money to buy electricity. If we are not willing to bond that money out, then I need to consider what options do I have,” Robideaux said. “I don’t have a bias towards one solution or the other. I just know I have a responsibility to look at every option available.”
Robideaux promised to make these decisions in concert with the council, with ample opportunity for public feedback. He did not weigh in on Conque’s proposal to require voter approval of a management contract, and did not respond to an email Friday asking his position.
The charter currently requires a public referendum for the sale or lease of any substantial part of LUS, and Conque said Friday he wants to close a “loophole” that would allow a management contract by ordinance.
“I just wanted to assure that would not happen,” Conque said. “It’s not casting aspersions on our current mayor president.”