Controversies swirling in Lafayette

We often go many months with little to no real controversial news coming from governmental or government-related organizations in Lafayette.  For that we should be thankful.  Other times, there are several things swirling about which require our attention to be fully informed and active members of the community.

This column focuses on three local events that have been unfolding since 2016 and into the first half of this year.  Due to space limitations, I cannot delve into the many details of each of the three events.  This is your reminder that each of the events outlined below will be more fully developed by later in the year, and we should be mindful of the development of each of the events.

Let’s start with the SMILE Community Action Agency, which provides services to disadvantaged clients, including a Head Start program, in Lafayette, Iberia, and St. Martin parishes; the program receives $17 million in federal funding.   SMILE’s Head Start program was taken over Fri., July 28 by a company under contract with the federal government.  The  program had been cited earlier this year for abuse of children. SMILE did not correct the problems within the prescribed timeline set by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services – hence, the takeover.  SMILE cannot qualify to be a Head Start contractor for another five years.  The organization will appeal to the federal government for reinstatement.  The appeal could take months or years.

The organization also spends on lavish expense-paid trips for its members.  SMILE has improperly removed board members because they didn’t  “support the right person for management positions.”  The organization is a prime example of wasteful spending and lack of government oversight.

Next is Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope.  Earlier this year, a recall campaign was begun to remove him from office.  One-third of the 82,298  registered voters in the city of Lafayette will have to sign the petition to go to the next step. The deadline is mid-December, and if the signatures are secured, the governor will call a special election to remove Pope.  He is slated for trial in 2018 – he requested the trial be delayed until 2018 – to litigate numerous charges ranging from malfeasance in office to perjury.  The debacle began when Pope refused to turn over e-mails to The Independent  when a public records request was filed to determine if Pope assisted Chad Leger in the 2015 Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s race. Pope resisted the lawful request and the saga began.

Finally, after two property millage renewals failed in 2016 – one for the parish jail, and one for the courthouse – Lafayette Consolidated Government was out $10 million for maintenance of the two buildings.  The taxes are necessary but voters said no in November.  So, LCG placed the millage renewals on the Nov. 18 ballot to try again.  LCG will also place on the Nov. 18 ballot a “rededication” of the public health millage.   The 3.56 mills property tax will be rededicated to include money for drainage needs and a new LCG culture, arts, and tourism initiative.  What I’m hearing is that money from the millage going to improve drainage is a good thing, but Lafayette has LCVC, a dedicated, publicly-funded tourism organization.

Research and follow the issues outlined above.  It’s our civic duty.  Stay informed my friends.

-Mark Pope