Inside Report: Tackling a boring, but messy, problem

It’s been more than three years since serious public discussion began about what some city leaders argue is a critical flaw in Lafayette’s consolidated form of government, and a potential fix seems more out of reach now than ever before.

For people who have not been keeping up with the ins and outs of the debate, here are the basics:

The Lafayette City-Parish Council is made up of nine members. Five of those members represent districts that are mostly within the city of Lafayette, and the other four represent districts located mostly outside the city of Lafayette.

Some people inside the city, including City-Parish President Joey Durel and a vocal contingent at the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, say allowing council members with large rural constituencies to control affairs within the city limits of Lafayette is a problem.

That can be an issue because, despite the consolidation, Lafayette still has police and fire departments that serve only the city of Lafayette, a city-owned utility system, and separate property and sales taxes.

One potential solution would be deconsolidation — undoing the 1996 merger of the once-separate governments for parish and city.

A special commission made that recommendation in 2011, but residents soundly rejected it at the polls by a vote of 26,448 to 15,307.

The proponents of more city autonomy are now pursuing another option, one that would keep consolidation in place but create a five-member council-within-a-council of city representatives with sole authority over city issues.

But that plan has hit a major snag.

Changing the structure of city-parish government requires the council to create a special commission to put the recommendation before voters, but creating that commission requires five members of the nine-member council to agree.

Three years ago, when the council created the commission that put deconsolidation on the ballot, the vote split down a city-versus-rural line, with the five councilmen from city-based districts supporting the creation of the commission and the four councilmen from rural-based districts opposing the move.

But the council dynamics have changed, and the perfect storm that could have blown in a second commission seems to have passed.

Andy Naquin, a new councilman from a city-based district, has split from the city pack and says he has seen no evidence the city has suffered under the current council structure, noting there are bigger issues to tackle.

Naquin was the deciding vote on Aug. 6 when the council shot down a proposal for a new commission, joining the four council members from rural-based districts to defeat the proposal 5-4.

Supporters of the new commission have said they hope Naquin’s constituents will rise up in protest of his vote, allowing them to bring the proposal back for a second and successful vote before the end of the year.

That’s optimistic on their part, considering the complicated political issue has not seemed to resonate with the general public.

That should not seem odd.

Debating the structure of government is not sexy stuff, and the work to restructure a government can be just as boring as it is politically messy.

Acadiana bureau chief Richard Burgess covers Lafayette city-parish government. He can be reached at rburgess @theadvocate.com.