Tuesday night, the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted to side with LCG attorneys and amend council districts by ordinance.
At issue are some clerical errors that were made in listing voting precincts in new districts approved by voters back in December, when they voted to separate the city and parish councils again. One example of an issue was an entire voting precinct was left out of the map.
The approval comes despite an attorney general’s opinion, released just hours earlier, saying the error could be fixed only through another election. That opinion came one day after Senator Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, requested it.
Another election about the issue cannot be brought forward until a year after it initially went on the ballot, meaning voters would elect city-parish council members to serve for the next four years.
“I’ve read the one and a half page AG opinion. It does not change my opinion at all. It does not change the confidence level that I have of my opinion,” said City-Parish attorney Paul Escott. “My understanding is that the attorney general received a written request from a particular senator yesterday afternoon and issued a one and a half opinion this afternoon. I do not know if the attorney general’s office even had an opportunity to read over our eleven-page opinion with exhibits.”
Escott and LCG’s legal team says similar errors in district lines have been fixed by ordinance in the past.
Some council members took issue with the fact that it took the AG’s office 24 hours to write the opinion, while the legal team reviewed the issue for roughly 3 weeks.
“I’m struggling with the fact that it takes over a week to give an attorney general’s opinion on the Marshall Pope situation and we can render an opinion that took you 3 weeks, with no communication, and at the stroke of a pen we can take the people’s vote away,” said Councilman Kevin Naquin.
Other councilmen were skeptical about moving forward with the ordinance. Councilman William Theriot said making the changes by ordinance could potentially leave LCG and the council at risk of a lawsuit.
“I’m going to make a motion to defer this and the reason being, number one, with an AG opinion coming out saying we can’t do it, our legal team saying we can do it, litigation is going to happen. Now with the AG’s opinion, it gives whoever is suing more reason to sue,” said Theriot.
Ultimately, the measure passed with a 6-3 vote.
“The bottom line is we need to get it right and whatever that means and whether or not that will be determined by courts or not remains to be seen,” said Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, alluding to the possibility of a lawsuit. “But we needed to fix the mistakes that were made. I personally feel like it was rushed which is why the mistakes were made but that’s really neither here nor there. The people needed to see their elected officials are trying to work toward a solution but unfortunately, it’s far from over.”
Residents will vote on council members to fill the seats on the separate councils in November.