ACA.LCGlegalfees.042019

Lafayette City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott, left, speaks with Assistant City-Parish Attorney Michael Hebert during a meeting of the City-Parish Council on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in Lafayette, Louisiana.

A four-person Lafayette Consolidated Government legal team, in an opinion released Friday to the City-Parish Council, concluded the "only appropriate and proper" way to correct discrepancies and omissions in new city and parish council districts is through an ordinance.

The legal team, in its memo, cited the Home Rule Charter, state law and a Louisiana Attorney General opinion that appear to expressly prohibit calling a vote of the people.

While an attorney general opinion is not necessary and is without force of law, the legal team concluded someone probably will request one if the council does not.

At issue is a Dec. 8, 2018, election in which voters amended the Lafayette Parish Home Rule Charter to create separate city and parish councils for the first time since consolidation occurred in 1996. Descriptions of the new city and parish council districts contain discrepancies and omit one city precinct. Some in the community and local government want a new election on the charter amendment with the corrected district lines. Others believe only an ordinance approved by the council is needed. And some want the attorney general's office to weigh in with an opinion on which is the correct way to correct the district problems.

Tuesday's council meeting agenda contains two ordinances sponsored by Councilman Jay Castille that would correct the errors in the new district boundaries. Also on the agenda is a resolution authored by four council members asking for an attorney general opinion.

The legal team consisting of City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott and Assistant City-Parish Attorneys Michael Hebert, Katherine Currie and Daniel Gauthier concluded the charter prohibits an election on the same issue for one year after the election, so the council is prohibited from calling an election on the charter amendment until after Dec. 7.

"The appropriate solution," they wrote, "is the reapportionment of the council election districts through the introduction and adoption of an ordinance."

The charter, in its current state and as amended, allows the council to reapportion districts and redraw districts through local ordinances, the opinion states, and a 1985 Louisiana Attorney General opinion allows governing authorities to reapportion districts at any time between censuses.

The charter says changes to district boundaries are to be done by ordinance, they wrote, and state laws and an attorney general opinion concur, with a June 1982 opinion going so far as to say reapportionment "may not be determined by referendum."

"In fact, an ordinance is the only vehicle for reapportionment authorized by the current HRC and the amended HRC," the legal team wrote. 

The team concluded, "Reapportionment by ordinance to address any and all discrepancies, errors and omissions in the council election districts is the only appropriate and proper solution to correct the issue at hand."

Regarding calls for a Louisiana Attorney General opinion, the legal advisers noted such an opinion is not legally binding and the council is not obligated to nor prohibited from seeking an opinion.

"The Attorney General and his legal team are tasked with providing independent and unbiased legal opinions to political subdivisions upon request," the city-parish attorneys wrote. "Soliciting an AG opinion to confirm the recommendations made by your legal department is consistent with LCG's objectives to determine, in good faith, the appropriate course of action."

If the council chooses to seek an opinion, it should do so soon, the team advised, adding that the council is not the only party allowed to seek an AG opinion.

Qualifying for the new city and parish councils is Aug. 6-8, so correcting the district boundaries quickly is important to those contemplating running for those seats. The election will be Oct. 12 if the changes are made in time.

The council meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday as the city-parish administrative building, 705 W. University Ave.


Follow Claire Taylor on Twitter, @ClaireTaylorACA