Saturday, February 27, 2010

My Letter to the LCG Council: Ignore The Chamber

On Friday afternoon, I hand-delivered a letter to all nine members of the LCG Council to the Council office. Subsequent to that, I emailed each councilman a copy of that letter.

The core argument is this: The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce has no special standing on the issue of Charter Repeal. Their concerns about the potential impact are legitimate, but those concerns are best discussed in public with the only entity with standing to decide the form of government we will live under here — the voters of Lafayette Parish.

The process that got us here was legitimate and straightforward. Any attempt to delay or defer putting this matter before the public will undermine the credibility of the Council, the Charter, and those organizations seeking to stop this from going to voters.

Here's the full text of the letter:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Council Chair, Jay Castille, District 2
Councilman Purvis Morrison, District 1
Councilman Brandon Shelvin, District 3
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, District 4
Councilman Jared Bellard, District 5
Councilman Sam Doré, District 6
Councilman Donald Bertrand, District 7
Councilman Keith Patin, District 8
Councilman William Theriot, District 9

Gentlemen,

I write today to urge you to vote on Tuesday to preserve the integrity of Consolidated Government and the current Charter. You can best do this by voting to approve the proposed ordinance that would call a November parishwide referendum on the question of whether or not to repeal the Parish Charter.

By voting to proceed with the ordinance and the referendum you will instill voter confidence in you, your processes and in the Charter amendment process that will serve the parish well regardless of the outcome of the vote on Charter repeal.

The credibility of the Council and Consolidated Government are at stake here because of the manner in which this issue was raised and the sole route the current Charter provides for resolving this issue.

The Charter Committee formed with the approval of the full LCG Council was duly constituted and charged with reviewing a range of issues relating to the functions of government under the current Charter. This committee was anything but radical; in fact, some argued that the committee was stacked with those with vested interest in the current Charter for any significant change to come from its work. After all, three of you were members of that committee; City/Parish President Durel was a member; two members of the original Charter Commission, Jeannie Kreamer and Nelson Quebedeaux, were members; and Greg Davis, a public employee who manages the Cajundome, was a member.

I attended both meetings of the committee. This was no wild-eyed bunch.

Importantly, the committee vote on this issue was unanimous. There was no dissent. There was no split vote. Your duly appointed and constituted committee charged with reviewing and addressing deficiencies in the Charter voted unanimously to recommend that you let the voters of Lafayette Parish decide whether they want to continue under this present form of government or not.

That is the issue that will up for consideration on Tuesday: will you allow a credible process for reform and/or repeal of the Charter run its course by allowing the people to vote; or, will you succumb to the special pleadings of The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce to delay this matter?

The Chambers concerns about the possible impact of deconsolidation are valid. Their request for a delay in action calling the vote is not. At no point has the Chamber or anyone else suggested that there was anything suspect about the manner in which the Council created the Charter Committee or in the way that Committee conducted its business.

Cynics would argue that The Chamber's request to table the matter for 90 days is an attempt to reduce voter participation in this matter while enhancing the organization's relative power in a low-turnout election.

By The Chamber's own admission, if you vote to table the ordinance, the election cannot be held in November when turnout will be relatively high due to the referendum sharing the ballot date with federal elections. A spring ballot would ensure lower voter turnout for this election the critical nature of which The Chamber accurately assesses.

Viewed in this light, The Chamber is trying to shape the outcome of the election by shifting the election date.

The Chamber says they want to slow this down because there are too many unanswered questions. This is precisely the reason to proceed. Here's why: The form of government that we chose to live under is, by definition, the Public's Business. This requires a public debate. Not a series of closed door meetings involving Chamber operatives and members of the Council or the administration.

This debate belongs in the public square and a referendum is the only way to force it to take place there.

Because no procedural, legal, or ethical questions have been raised by anyone regarding the process through which this proposed ordinance was arrived at, there is no legitimate basis for The Chamber's request to be honored.

The Charter does not give the Chamber right of first refusal on reviewing Charter amendments. They have no special standing in this matter, other than the fact that their representative Bruce Conque has been the source of a series of poorly though-out suggestions — freezing current council districts for five years, extending the current council term to five years, and, now, letting the Chamber sit as a sort of House of Lords, deciding on the appropriateness and timing of matters under consideration by the council and which of those that might be allowed to find their way to the voters.

The power of changing, even repealing, the parish Charter is reserved exclusively to the voters of this parish. Acting in good faith, you created a committee and set in motion a process that produced repeal of the Charter as a unanimous recommendation to you. Doing anything less than allowing this issue to go to the voters as quickly as possible would call into question your credibility and the credibility of Consolidated Government.

You are not being asked to vote your opinion of repealing the Charter. You are being asked to call an election on this question that will not only allow, but force proponents and opponents of change to make their case to the voters of Lafayette Parish — the ultimate arbiters of this matter.

Like any other citizen of the parish, you will have the opportunity to study the facts, make a decision, pick a side, and argue your case. That is one thing the framers of the current Charter got exactly right: the real power of government in Lafayette flows directly from the people.

Your credible process resulted in this matter being elevated to a matter of public debate that can only be properly resolved by a vote of the people. Trying to now stifle or cut off that debate would demonstrate contempt for voters and their judgment that so far only the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce seems willing to publicly express.

The Charter says that Lafayette voters have the final say on this matter. The issue has been raised through a credible process. The Chamber has no special standing that could justify their request for a delay in putting this matter up for public debate and vote. Call the vote, let the debate begin, and let the facts on consolidation and de-consolidation come out.

This will provoke the kind of vigorous discussion this issue needs and cries out for.

Honor your processes. Respect the work of the committee you appointed to handle this matter. Trust the voters. Ignore The Chamber. Pass the ordinance.

Sincerely,
Mike Stagg

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