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Joey Durel

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The Power And Promise Of Local Government

Posted: 08/01/2012 7:07 pm

I want to thank The Huffington Post for the opportunity to share the story of my city, Lafayette, Louisiana, a city of 125,000 people, with a trade area of close to 700,000 people. I strongly believe that as state and federal governments grow and become less manageable, people need to look to local government for real solutions and real answers. Obviously, local government is closer to the people, able to be more attentive and respond more quickly.

Lafayette is the hub of the oil and gas industry in South Louisiana. CNN Money recently reported that according to a new report from IHS Global Insight, Lafayette is expected to have the nation's largest gain in jobs among metropolitan areas. Employment is expected to soar 8.8% (number one in the nation) this year, while the area's economy should jump 7.5%. This is due mostly to a healthy energy sector, but also to an ongoing effort to diversify our economy. We are centrally located in south Louisiana, home of the second to largest university in the state (the University of Louisiana). Lafayette's location protects us from some of the extreme weather we have seen along the coast. Our inland location and our relatively high elevation have made us a safe harbor for businesses and for families, while still conveniently located on one of America's most-important highways, Interstate 10, at the intersection of I-49. We are the home of a uniquely authentic Cajun and Creole culture that has resulted in Lafayette being named the Best Food City in America (Rand McNally) and Tastiest City in the South (Southern Living).

Our city has its own citizen-owned utility company, the Lafayette Utility System (LUS) that began in 1896 when the people voted to take control of their own destiny by voting to provide electricity. Again, in 2005, our citizens voted for Lafayette to expand LUS's offerings to include a Fiber Optic system -- now called LUS Fiber. The $125,000,000 investment provides Fiber Optics up and down every street in Lafayette, and the Fiber provides television, telephone and internet service.

This project was done entrepreneurially, without taxes or grants. It must survive strictly by competing with a good (better) product for our citizens. Today, we have the fastest, most affordable Internet speeds in America. We can deliver a true, symmetrical gigabit for less than $1000! We also provide a free symmetrical 100mbs for Intranet to any subscriber to our service. This is local government owned and managed, but paid for only by the people that subscribe to the service. We are providing much higher speeds for much less money than is otherwise available. This will mean opportunities for companies to use Lafayette as a laboratory for what the next generation internet will do for the world. It will help provide good, clean, high-paying jobs for our citizens.

Another important initiative is that the city has just purchased 100 acres of pristine land, located in the middle of the city, from our university to preserve it as a "passive" park, with biking and walking trails, full of gardens and a place to house our police horses. This will give kids a great opportunity to meet policemen in a pleasant environment that is not intimidating -- great PR for the police and a great first impression for children. Most impressive (in my opinion) is that our council voted to buy and fund the purchase in a year that our sales taxes were actually declining. That decision is indicative of the courage of our community. We deal with the issues we have to deal with today, without ignoring the future. The property will then be turned over to our community foundation to fund the build-out and maintenance of the property, taking it out of government's hands and off of the back of the taxpayers. Buying it with taxes insures that it remains accessible to the public. Turning it over to the private sector will increase our chances of bringing it from good to great.

Lafayette is a high tech city, leading America into the future, while preserving great green space in its center. We are growing and thriving, and we are working just as hard to preserve our quality of life and our small-town feel. Being the fastest growing major city in the state, we are currently developing a comprehensive plan to set goals for Lafayette 20 years from now. We are optimistic about our future and know we are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few decades. A plan will help us spend those dollars more efficiently.

Local governments cannot wait for state or federal governments to make them great (but keep begging), they have to take control of their own destiny. As a mayor, I am fortunate to live in a very forward thinking community that never takes its eye off of the future. We have a first-class university and people wanting and willing to work together. The president of our university, our superintendent of schools, the community and technical college chancellor, and I have lunch together once a month, just to keep the lines of communication open. We have a community where the government, education, and the private sector work well together for the common good. That is what makes it great to be the mayor of Lafayette; that is what makes me so optimistic about our future!

 
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