Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory on Friday vetoed a City Council ordinance to hire its own special attorney in a dispute with Guillory’s administration and the Parish Council over who controls city tax dollars.
On Sept. 1, the City Council voted 3-1 to hire its own attorney, Lea Anne Batson, of Baton Rouge, to represent it in a dispute with the administration over the legal department’s interpretation of the home rule charter regarding joint decisions with the Parish Council.
Lafayette City Council votes to hire own attorney after city-parish attorney says it’s illegal
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Problems have arisen during budget reviews in recent months between the City Council and Parish Council over when both councils vote on budget items. Assistant City-Parish Attorney Paul Escott, during council meetings, sided with the administration and Parish Council.
The 2020-21 budget, up for final adoption Thursday, is the first prepared by Guillory, who took office in January. It’s also the first for the City Council and Parish Council, which replaced the combined City-Parish Council that existed since consolidation in 1996.
Under the City-Parish Council, council members whose districts were comprised primarily of residents outside the city of Lafayette had the same vote on spending city tax dollars as council members whose districts were primarily or entirely in the city.
The separate councils were created after voters approved a 2018 home rule charter amendment designed to give the city more control over city tax dollars. The city has always had more money than the parish and past mayor-presidents have put more of the burden for paying costs of city-parish government on the city because the parish hasn’t had enough money.
Guillory has done the same with his proposed 2020-21 budget because the parish general fund only contains about $50,000.
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At the Sept. 1 meeting, City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan warned the City Council he believed it would be illegal to hire its own attorney. He said a case involving the city of Alexandria was a deciding case.
City Council Chairman Pat Lewis and City Coiuncil members Nanette Cook and Liz Hebert voted to hire the special counsel. Councilman Andy Naquin voted against it. Councilman Glenn Lazard was absent due to health reasons.
In his veto Friday, Guillory again cited the Alexandria case as evidence the City Council cannot legally hire its own attorney. He also cited the Lafayette Parish Home Rule Charter which gives the city-parish attorney the authority to hire assistant attorneys and special counsel.
Guillory also wrote in his veto message that the 2018 amended charter created two councils but retained a centralized administration and legal department under the mayor-president “precisely so the city and parish will operate in accordance with consistent and harmonious legal representation and avoid additional needless legal expenses.”
Two-thirds of the City Council, four of the five council members, must vote to override the veto.