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Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Josh Guillory joined Jan Swift of Discover Lafayette to discuss his first year of service to the community. Guillory took office on January 6, 2020, and has faced unprecedented challenges this year as the coronavirus rolled in with its ensuing physical and economic chaos, the oil and gas market collapsed, several hurricanes hit our region, and civil unrest erupted after the fatal police shooting of Trayford Pellerin.
A young man who will turn 38 on January 8, 2021, Guillory is a graduate of the U. S. Airborne School and earned his wings in 2004. He comes from a family who proudly served, harking back to his paternal grandfather who was a WWI Vet, his maternal grandfather who was a WWII Vet, and his brother who served in the Air Force. Guillory served in Baghdad, Iraq as a Cavalry platoon leader. He credits his time in the military for teaching him how to make decisions, saying he was told in Officer Candidate School, “If you’ll learn anything, you will learn how to make decisions!”
While working as a pharmaceutical representative and juggling the responsibilities of raising three young children with his wife, Guillory earned his law degree from Southern University Law Center while working full time and attending school at night. He credits his work in pharmaceuticals for equipping him to better understand medical issues associated with the pandemic.
Hospitals are once again at surge capacity, and immediately prior to our interview, Guillory hosted a press conference with hospital officials who reiterated that the community must follow COVID guidelines such as mask-wearing, washing hands, social distancing, and quarantining if exposed to someone with the virus. Guillory has realized that a small percentage of the people think everything should be shut down in order to get a grip on the pandemic, another small percentage think it is a hoax, and an overwhelming majority just want to strike a balance so that we can keep going. “Personal responsibility is the absolute # 1 tool in fighting COVID-19. We all know what to do and we should comply. Wash your hands like you are cleaning up after eating crawfish and putting in your contact lens,” Guillory says.
Guillory has remained steadfast in his commitment to do more with less while not raising taxes and to focus on his core priorities of improving drainage, roads, and public safety.
Handling the pandemic has been an all-consuming priority and has also resulted in delaying the hiring of a few key hires such as permanent directors for LUS, LUS Fiber, and the Parks Department. While Guillory prefers to hire local, he also wants to ensure that the best possible candidates are vetted and the pandemic has made interviewing tough. The new Lafayette City Chief of Police is about to be named, and Guillory is proud that two local people were hired to oversee the newly created Drainage and Transportation, Roads and Bridges Departments, which were carved out of the former Public Works Department. This year’s budget adds 11 positions to the Drainage Department, which fulfills Guillory’s promise to prioritize improving drainage.
When asked to address the cuts made to arts and culture, Guillory stressed the importance of tapping into all stakeholder groups with an interest in maintaining the quality of offerings while also taking into consideration the constraints of the budget. With the recent defeat of the two tax propositions which would have allowed greater budget flexibility in spending operating fund (discretionary) dollars, Guillory stated that public/private partnerships are more important than ever if projects are to be adequately funded. He emphasized his appreciation for the arts, stating “I am the son of a blue-eyed soul singer. Music is in my blood. My dad made his living singing, that is how he paid the bills and fed our family. I value the arts.”
Guillory was excited to share news of the expansion of Lafayette’s Little League into the “Greater Lafayette Little League” which will offer the opportunity for players from a larger geographic area to participate. There will also be a combining of two girls’ softball associations into one parish-wide group for girls up to the age of twelve (and perhaps up to 14 – 15 years of age as details are worked out.)
When asked about the potential of deconsolidation of the City of Lafayette and the parish, Guillory stated he doesn’t see this putting our community in a better position. He wants to see consolidation “done better,” and have the City and Parish Councils pass budgets where tax dollars are spent as intended by votes of the people. While he didn’t vote for “Fix the Charter” he stated that he is sworn to uphold the Charter as it stands, which is why he was opposed to the hiring by the City Council of its own attorney. The Charter calls for one legal department with a process to hire special counsel for single issues such as bond actions, and he will continue to uphold the Charter as written. Guillory also praised the recent actions of the Parish and City Councils for following the unwritten rule on budget matters that city dollars are allocated for city projects, and parish dollars allocated for parish projects. After a recent detente when the Parish Council wouldn’t second a motion for the City Parks and Recreation Budget, an understanding was reached and the Councils have been working together.
Guillory spoke of racial relations and praised the work of Carlos Harvin, Chief of Minority Affairs. He discussed how Harvins has had a rough year and taken criticism from the community. Guillory noted that he believes we will be seeing much more diversity and inclusion in the community, and wants to see more local nonprofits who work to serve low to moderate-income community needs “at the table,” to help them obtain federal grants to address issues such as homelessness.
Guillory addressed the recent news of a four-year surveillance contract signed with Brooks Bernard of Crime Fighters. Bernard is passionate about helping law enforcement prevent and solve crime and has already been working with area municipalities by putting up his cameras at no cost. Guillory explained that no cameras have been installed yet, that information will be kept confidential except as to assist law enforcement, and the cameras will be limited to the City of Lafayette and areas of the unincorporated parish where LUS utility poles are up (for placement of the cameras). High crime areas will be prioritized and the cameras are not “red-light cameras.”
Guillory shared examples of how the surveillance cameras have prevented crimes, giving the example of a young girl who had been kidnapped. When the kidnapper saw one of Bernard’s cameras on a light pole, he stopped the car and shoved the girl out of the vehicle. Guillory noted, “In the film you can see the perpetrator see the camera and decide the crime wasn’t worth pursuing.” The flip side of the story is how some crimes have not been able to be solved in Lafayette for a lack of surveillance cameras. Guillory shared an example of a major violent drug criminal who had been followed by police in other jurisdictions but who was lost once he went into Lafayette City limits. This will definitely be an interesting development to follow as details are worked out and the cameras go up.