The Lafayette City-Parish Council is considering its options on the future of LUS.
Tonight, the council tried to force Mayor-President Joel Robideaux for his position on what should happen.
As we’ve been reporting, in April, Mayor-President Robideaux signed a non-binding letter of intent with The Bernhard Group, now also known as NextGen, to begin negotiations for that company to take over management of LUS.
Robideaux signed that letter without telling members of the council and since it became public, other companies,like Entergy and CLECO, have also expressed interest in managing the public-owned utility.
But now, the council wants clarity from Robideaux.
Councilman Bruce Conque proposed a resolution, requesting that the mayor-president take a stance on whether LCG should move forward with third party management of LUS.
The resolution passed unanimously, but Robideaux left the meeting early without making a statement and his spokeswoman said he was unavailable for comment.
Conque disputes that LUS needs third party management to make those necessary improvements.
“We need to have some indication from the mayor-president as to whether or not he wants to pursue third party management of LUS. If so, then I strongly suggest that he open up the process to all interested parties. If not, then let’s move on,” said Conque. “There is nothing in the NextGen proposal that cannot be accomplished through the efforts of an administrator that is skilled and experienced. And we can find that individual if we are willing to pay the price that it would take to get that person into Lafayette.”
All public comments were in opposition to giving up management of the city-owned utility.
“Why would you want to give away the management to another third party team?” questioned one speakers.
“Lafayette citizens own LUS. If this proposal advances and is ultimately implemented, it will be in direct defiance of the Citizens of Lafayette,” said another man.
How a potential deal would impact LUS employees is also in question.
“Will civil service employees be allowed to work under a private entity?” Conque asked the civil service director, Adam Marcantel.
“The simple answer is no. When civil service establishes civil service positions, those positions exist in service to Lafayette Consolidated Government,” explained Marcantel.
But Jim Bernhard, the owner of the Bernhard Group pushing for the proposal, disagreed.
“I differ from Mr. Marcantel. The Louisiana Supreme Court in 2003 ruled, unequivocally, that privatization is allowed in conjunction with civil service,” Bernhard stated.
But this brought concerns by Councilwoman Liz Hebert.
“Everyone’s ready to know what’s happening. There’s a lot of rumors out there and not just our constituents, but the employees of LUS. They are scared that they’re going to lose their jobs and that is not right,” Hebert said.
Bernhard interrupted saying, “that’s not right. And no one’s going to lose their jobs.”
Hebert replied as Bernhard attempted to interject, “but the fear of the unknown is there Mr. Bernhard with all due respect. I’m sure you’re a great guy, but they don’t know you.”
“Well some of them do,” he replied.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty about their jobs, the public is nervous. It’s time to move on, whether we put out RFP’s for bid to entertain ideas or we as the LPUA and council say enough is enough, we do not need a third party,” she said.
The debate will continue at the next meeting, where Councilman William Theriot is proposing a resolution stating that LUS will not be considered for sale, lease, outside management or partnership at this time.
He says this is to reassure the Lafayette citizens and let them know where the council members stand on the LUS proposal.