Special panel urged to ponder council control in Lafayette

Supporters of a plan that would give City-Parish Council members from the city of Lafayette more control over city affairs asked the council Tuesday to create a special commission to move the proposal forward.

The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce unveiled a plan Sunday that would create a separate five-member city council within the larger nine-member City-Parish Council.

Only the five members from city districts could vote on city-specific issues, such as the budgets of the city’s police and fire departments or the rates for the city-owned utility system.

The plan would address concerns that, under the current structure of consolidated city and parish government, councilmen with large rural constituencies have too much power over how city departments are managed and how city tax dollars are spent.

“Every governing body in America should have the right to make decisions about how their respective tax dollars are spent,” said Chamber Vice President Bruce Conque, who made the pitch Tuesday to the council.

The issue of city autonomy was at the center of a ballot measure in 2011 that would have undone consolidation and brought back the separate governments for Lafayette Parish and the city of Lafayette that existed before the two merged in 1996.

Voters soundly rejected that proposal, with 63 percent opposing deconsolidation.

Conque asked the council Tuesday to reconstitute the same special commission that crafted the 2011 deconsolidation plan, saying there is now consensus among some of the old commissioners that the new plan is a workable alternative that would maintain consolidated government while giving the city more autonomy.

Conque served on the 2011 commission, and he was joined on Tuesday by another commission member, Don Bacque.

The two were on opposite sides of the deconsolidation, with Conque favoring the split and Bacque opposing it.

They were both in agreement Tuesday on the new plan for the five-member council within a council.

Council members have had mixed reactions to the new proposal, and the council took no action on the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilmen questioned how long the commission might need to do its work and whether the reconstituted commission would need a budget for research or legal expenses.

Councilman Keith Patin raised concerns about whether the reconstituted commission might find itself in a “quagmire” of competing proposals, as it did in its first incarnation in 2011.

Bacque said he suspects that the commission members would make quick work of the issue the second time around.

“There wouldn’t be a learning process,” he said.

Councilman Chairman Brandon Shelvin raised the possibility of the City-Parish Council naming itself as a special commission to look at changes to the structure of government.

State law requires that a commission be formed to propose changes to Lafayette’s governing document, the home rule charter.

But City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert said the council could appoint itself as that commission.

Regardless of who sits on the commission, voters would have to approve changes to the structure of the City-Parish Council.

Conque said that chamber officials are pushing to get the proposal on the ballot next year.