The Lafayette City Council will hire its own attorney in a dispute with the City-Parish legal team, Mayor-President Josh Guillory and the Parish Council over who controls city tax dollars.
The dispute surfaced in recent week as the councils review and suggest changes to the 2020-21 budget proposed by Guillory. The City-Parish attorneys, who are supposed to represent the mayor-president and both councils, are hired by the mayor-president.
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In recent budget discussions over control of city tax money paid into parish departments, the legal team has opined that both the City and Parish Councils may vote, even when only city tax dollars pay for the operations.
Most City Council members disagree, arguing that voters approved a home rule charter amendment in 2018 that split the former City-Parish Council into separate councils so that the city would have more control over how its tax revenue is spent. The city of Lafayette for decades has had more revenue than the parish, leading past administrators to use city money to subsidize shortfalls in parish operations.
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City Council Chairman Pat Lewis announced in a press release Monday afternoon that the City Council will consider an ordinance approving the hiring of Lea Anne Batson as special counsel, which is allowed under the parish home rule charter.
Batson has more than 30 years representing a consolidated government in East Baton Rouge Parish, including four years serving as the parish attorney, the release states. She also served on three committees charged with revising the East Baton Rouge Parish form of government.
A special meeting of the City Council is scheduled for Tuesday evening to introduce an ordinance to hire Batson. If given the go-ahead Tuesday, the ordinance will go before the City Council on Sept. 1 for final adoption.
The proposed budget goes before the City and Parish Councils on Aug. 27 for wrap-up, a joint meeting where council members will debate and vote on budget items they disagreed on during budget hearings. The councils are expected to meet Sept. 10 for final budget adoption.
“Every day is crucial,” Lewis said in the news release. “We have a key budget hearing on Aug. 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.”
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Lewis called the situation “near-emergency” and said some are concerned about adopting a budget “that may not be legal.”
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Batson will be paid at rates established by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, Lewis said.