New year, new mayor — new direction?

Woman in red jacket smiles at ceremony
Mayor-President Monique Boulet was inaugurated alongside City and Parish councilmembers, Jan. 4, 2024. Photo by Robin May

The new year has new Mayor-President Monique Blanco Boulet tacking a different direction for Lafayette Consolidated Government with a major overhaul to its leadership and a key shift on an issue that defined former M-P Josh Guillory’s single term.

So far the new M-P has ousted Guillory’s entire crew of top advisers, including:

  • City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan — replaced by Pat Ottinger (city-parish attorney from 2004-2011)
  • CAO Cydra Wingerter — replaced by Rachel Godeaux
  • Chief of Staff Robert D. Benoit
  • Deputy Chief of Staff Jamie Angelle
  • Interim CFO Lowell Duhon — replaced by Karen Fontenot

It’s not unusual for a new mayor-president to replace key leadership upon taking office, particularly top advisers, like the CAO and city-parish attorney, or to restructure jobs within the M-P’s office. Others in less sensitive roles, like international trade, or more entrenched positions, like the fire and police chiefs, have better odds of staying on.

And that much has proven true with Boulet. She retained Police Chief Judith Estorge, Fire Chief Robert Benoit (no relation to the former chief of staff) and International Trade Director Dave Domingue.

Guillory made headlines in 2020 with his Day One ousting of then-Police Chief Toby Aguillard. But he otherwise kept a mix of directors inherited from his predecessor Joel Robideaux, at least initially. He would later oust all but a few of them within his first year in office.

Interim appointments also aren’t unusual, though Boulet’s three temporary directors show that her administration is still just taking shape.

New Blood

Boulet has nevertheless cleaned house of many Guillory appointees, including those outside the level of closest advisers. Most notably:

  • Chad Nepveaux in Public Works — interim replacement Warren Abadie (also Traffic, Roads & Bridges director)
  • Mary Sliman in Community Development & Planning — interim replacement Anne Famoso
  • Ryan Meche at LUS Fiber — interim replacement Jeff Stewart (also LUS director)

Meche’s ousting is a particular surprise, given Boulet’s work with him on Fiber’s $30 million federal broadband grant in 2022 while she led the Acadiana Planning Commission. But the new M-P has also retained several key Guillory appointments, including LUS Director Jeff Stewart, who will be Meche’s interim replacement for Boulet’s first 90 days.

The initial impact of Logan’s ousting was clear at Tuesday’s first City Council meeting, as new Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux wasted no time in probing Boulet and Ottinger on whether the council could hire its own attorney.

“Everybody loves Mayor-President Boulet right now. You heard everybody was Kumbaya-ing, but at some point there’s going to be a disagreement,” Boudreaux said. “At some point, the mayor-president is going to have an opinion and a council member is going to have an opinion, and there’s one lawyer. … How does lawyer Ottinger deal with the conflicts that come between the councils or between the administration and a council?”

Logan, Guillory’s city-parish attorney, frequently sparred with the City Council after defeating the council’s attempt to hire its own attorney for a lawsuit over special taxing districts. Despite the council’s objections, Logan insisted that, as city-parish attorney, he answered to Guillory.

The issue quickly defined Guillory’s relationship with last term’s City Council and ultimately with city voters, who carried Boulet to victory in November’s election.

Ottinger’s response was an about-face, saying the council is clearly empowered to hire special representation when it sees fit and insisting that his role as city-parish attorney is not to be a tool of intimidation for the mayor-president.

“We're speaking hypothetically here,” he replied, “but at the end of the day, my loyalty and my duty is to the government as opposed to, quite frankly, anybody sitting in this room at the moment.”

Boulet told the council that was an intentional aspect of Ottinger’s selection, saying, “He is clearly here to protect our government, not to side one way or the other.”

Separation of Powers

Former City Councilwoman Nanette Cook called it a clear shift from Logan, who frequently made council members feel “bullied by our own counsel.”

“Monique made it very clear that Pat Ottinger is not her attorney; he works for the government. That’s the interpretation that I think was lost on the last administration,” Cook said Wednesday.

That could open the door for more changes, especially with new City Councilman Thomas Hooks’ early push Tuesday to more clearly separate city and parish matters by asking for separate ordinances to auction surplus property.

Similar City Council efforts were frequently crushed in the Guillory years, but Boulet’s efforts to redefine relationships among the councils and the administration may offer both councils a chance to flex their autonomy in the future.

While the leadership overhaul and legal reversal suggest a total turnaround at City-Parish Hall, Boulet told Straight News Online after Tuesday’s meeting that she isn’t indiscriminately throwing out everything left behind by Guillory. Instead, she says her goal is to take an individual approach to the major decisions that she’s inherited and remove politics from the equation.

“I’m not killing everything [Guillory’s] done,” she says. “I’m looking at the previous administration’s projects honestly and trying to pull out the best parts to move forward in a healthy way.”