LAFAYETTE — Lafayette City-Parish Councilman William Theriot is pushing forward with a proposal to allow voters to decide the fate of the city’s traffic-camera enforcement program, despite warnings from the city-parish attorney that a public vote on the issue is not allowed under state or local law.
Theriot is scheduled to introduce a measure at Tuesday’s council meeting to call for a referendum this fall to decide if the traffic-camera program should end.
A final council vote on the proposal is scheduled for next month.
“I feel, and many people feel, that this is something the people should decide,” Theriot said.
The call for a public vote comes after the council in May voted 6-3 against a proposal to end the program by Theriot and councilmen Andy Naquin and Jared Bellard.
The new proposal would bypass the council and submit the controversial issue to Lafayette voters, but City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert has said Louisiana law and local law bar the council from calling a public vote except on specific issues, such as tax proposals or amendments to the constitution-like city-parish charter.
During a council meeting last month, Hebert cited a 1980s court case in which the secretary of state blocked a ballot proposal by the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board to ask voters whether the board should recognize and bargain with a teacher’s union.
The secretary of state argued that the School Board did not have the legal authority to call for an election on just any issue, and the state Supreme Court agreed.
The state Attorney General’s Office has also issued legal opinions stating that local government may not call for a public vote or poll unless there is a local or state law that specifically allows for the issue to be put before voters.
Theriot questions the legal opinions and has said he would like to see an opinion specific to his request for a public vote on the traffic cameras in Lafayette.
He also said he has no plans on withdrawing his call for a public vote.
Bellard, the council chairman, said he supports a public vote on the issue and would like to hear a thorough explanation on why that vote might not be proper.
“I would just like to know why we couldn’t do that,” he said. “I’m all for it. Let’s let the people vote and finally put it to rest.”
The measure has limited support among other council members.
Councilman Jay Castille said even if the legal issues are resolved, he would still oppose putting the issue to voters.
“Are we going to send every tough decision to the voters? We were elected to represent them,” Castille said.
Councilman Don Bertrand said he, too, will oppose Theriot’s proposal for a public vote on traffic cameras because he has no reason to question Hebert’s opinion that the vote would not be legal.
In Sulphur, residents voted out an automated traffic camera enforcement program in 2009, but that vote came after residents successfully petitioned to put the issue on the ballot under the city’s initiative and referendum provision.
Initiative and referendum refers to the process through which voters can force legislation even if an elected body opposes it.
Lafayette’s city-parish charter allows the public in some cases to force the council to pass an ordinance or put an issue before voters if 15 percent of registered voters sign a petition.
Hebert has said that a petition from Lafayette voters could put the issue of traffic cameras on the ballot, but the council could not do so on its own, according to minutes from a council discussion of the issue last month.
Lafayette city-parish government launched the automated traffic enforcement program in 2007.
The cameras take pictures of the driver and license plate when a vehicle speeds through an intersection or runs a red light. The alleged violator is mailed a citation.
There are 12 intersections in the city that are monitored by traffic cameras. Another 17 location are being considered.