Carlee Alm-LaBar is the first to admit she doesn't look like a mayor-president. She's short, she doesn't wear makeup and she appears younger than her 43 years.
But Alm-LaBar is the only one of five candidates for Lafayette Mayor-President who knows Lafayette Consolidated Government from the inside, having worked in the administrations of two Republicans as an assistant to the city-parish president and as director of planning and development.
That experience, she said, is important "because when you talk to auditors, anybody with a lot of knowledge about local government, they'll tell you LCG is one of the most complicated because of our form of consolidation and because of the municipally-owned utility, LUS and LUS fiber."
Inside knowledge of LCG may be even more valuable as consolidated government transitions starting in January from a single nine-person City-Parish Council to two five-person councils, one for the city of Lafayette and one for the parish, with one mayor-president attempting to work with both.
Alm-LaBar, who lives in Lafayette, is the only no party candidate in the race facing three Republicans and one Democrat.
She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, with a bachelor's degree in education and came to Church Point in 1998 with Teach for America, teaching high school math for three years.
"I came here, fell in love with the area and never left," she said recently.
Alm-LaBar moved to Lafayette Parish in 2000, working more than six years with the non-profit Acadiana Youth, which operates shelters for abused and neglected children. She earned a master's degree in public administration from LSU before joining Community Foundation of Acadiana for two years. In 2010, she joined the administration of former Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel and later remained with LCG under Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, resigning in June 2018 to work at Southern Lifestyle Development, a job she left this summer to run for mayor-president.
The first to announce her candidacy, Alm-LaBar is the only candidate to enter the race before Robideaux said he would not seek reelection.
For those of the mindset that anyone in government must be defeated, Alm-LaBar asks voters to consider her record inside and outside of government. At LCG, she was involved in resolving complicated issues such as the downtown bar moratorium that was hurting business but had to be balanced with safety concerns.
"I worked two years with downtown stakeholders, public officials, alcohol permitting," she said, "to modify the moratorium to allow for new bars downtown in such a way that neighboring businesses could feel safe" and to ensure the conditions that led to the 14-year moratorium would not return.
Alm-LaBar may be best known for her role in development and planning at LCG, where she worked on the comprehensive plan, a policy document developed with input from the public, as well as the Unified Development Code, a regulatory document that has been vilified by some developers and political opponents as anti-business.
Alm-LaBar, who was LCG's chief development officer and later planning and development director, believes there's a lot of misinformation about the UDC. The UDC took many of the codes that previously existed in different departments and documents, she said, and placed them into a single document where developers wanting to build in the city of Lafayette or unincorporated parts of the parish can find in one place the rules they need to follow regarding drainage, utility easements, parking and green space, for instance.
The UDC, Alm-LaBar said, made drainage standards for new development stricter and made it easier to redevelop property inside the city with new infill regulations.
"There's still work we can and should do to remain competitive as a community," Alm-LaBar said. "We had regulations before that people complained about. Now we have one book, one name, and they say this is bad without citing specific provisions. I'll continue to modify it. I did it as planning director. We need to create a predictable, stable business climate in Lafayette. It's very important that in order to stay competitive as a community we continue to look at regulations that might be holding us back."
Improving drainage to prevent flooding is identified by all the mayor-president candidates as a top priority since the August 2016 deluge flooded thousands of homes in the parish. While some things have been done, Alm-LaBar said a lot more is needed.
"We have to have a culture change where it has to be all hands on deck working inside government on this issue every day," she said. "We already have some resources, but we're going to have to put additional brain power on it and, I would say, high-level coordination into it."
Alm-LaBar wants regularly to convene the mayors of all municipalities in Lafayette Parish to prioritize and coordinate larger projects and make sure the parish is investing in the right improvements. Lafayette, as the largest municipality in the watershed, can take a lead role in coordinating efforts regionally among surrounding parishes, she said.
The new mayor-president will be tasked with working with new city and parish councils, which each will address its own issues. Communication will be critical, Alm-LaBar said, between the mayor and each council and between the two councils. Once the new councils are seated in January and elect respective chairpersons, she wants to meet with the council leaders to coordinate efforts and discuss how to make a smooth transition to this new form of government.
Having already studied the budget, Alm-LaBar said one of the first things the parish council needs to do is look at what the parish is paying for with consolidation that are not core parish services . For example, the parish pays part of the salary for housing inspectors who condemn houses even though most condemnations occur within Lafayette's city limits, she said. It may make more sense financially to hire contractors on a case by case basis when condemnations are done in the parish, she said.
The City Council won't have the same financial constraints facing the Parish Council. Alm-LaBar said some of the first discussions needed are about the future of Lafayette Utilities System and increasing pay for city police officers, who are the lowest paid in the parish.
As the only no-party candidate in the race, Alm-LaBar has been the target of relentless attacks on social media from a dark money political committee, the Lafayette Republican Party Facebook page and fake Facebook pages. Only once has she responded. She said she was prepared for nasty politics from the start and felt it was her job to run a positive campaign.
"Republicans make up the greatest amount of our individual donors," she said. "I think that says a lot about my campaign and my candidacy. I am doing a lot to bring Lafayette Parish together and that's what we set out to do when we got in the race."
Alm-LaBar's campaign, in a Sept. 12 news release, said more than 100 Republicans donated $73,000 to her campaign through Sept. 2, along with $51,000 from independent voters and $46,000 from Democrats.
Campaign finance reports for the period ending Sept. 2 show Alm-LaBar well ahead of her competitors in raising money for the campaign, with $270,480 in cash donations, $14,862 in in-kind donations and $2,860 from the sale of campaign paraphernalia. In special reports filed Sept. 24 and 26, Alm-LaBar reported another $29,500 in contributions.
- Age: 43
- Family: Married to Wil LaBar; no children, one dog
- Home: Resident of Lafayette
- Job: Resigned as director of planning for traditional neighborhood development with Southern Lifestyle Development to campaign for mayor-president
- Party: No party affiliation