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City Council moves forward with hiring attorney

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Posted at 12:20 PM, Aug 19, 2020

The Lafayette City Council is moving an introductory ordinance forward to consider hiring an attorney as soon as possible to help resolve the current dispute with the administration over their ability to control city tax dollars.

Tuesday night, the city council voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance authored by City Council Chairman Pat Lewis.

The ordinance would appoint Lea Anne Batson as special counsel. Batson has more than 30 years of experience as an attorney representing consolidated government in East Baton Rouge Parish, including four years as the Parish Attorney.

Batson has also served on three different committees charged with revisions to East Baton Rouge's Plan of Government.

"A better attorney could not have been referred with more experience and who is uniquely qualified to aid us as we work out the disagreement over how to interpret this new charter," Lewis said in a news release earlier this week.

"Every day is crucial," Lewis said. "We have a key budget hearing on August 27 that will almost certainly involve disputes over who can control city tax dollars. If the City Council loses control over city tax dollars, it will be difficult to prevent city tax dollars from being spent for non-city purposes. City taxpayers need and deserve their own legal representation."

During comments from the public Tuesday night, Lafayette resident Jared Eubanks spoke in favor of the ordinance.

"I think the one thing we can all agree on is that y'all represent the taxpayers of this city," Eubanks said. "Your actions today could set precedent for what could be decades of how we govern our city and parish."

Lafayette resident Will Thiele said, "We cannot expect unbiased legal advice from a City-Parish attorney who is charged to serve the administration and the Mayor-President. We need to protect the tax dollars of the City of Lafayette residents."

One person did call in to say they are opposed to the city council hiring special counsel, but they did not wish to speak.

The Home Rule Charter allows either council to hire an attorney to serve as special counsel for a "specific purpose." In this case, the City Council will consider hiring Batson for the purpose of assisting the City Council in its dispute with the administration and Parish Council over how to properly interpret and implement the joint decision-making aspects of the charter.

The ordinance will be considered for Final Adoption on September 1st, in advance of the Budget Adoption scheduled for September 10, 2020.