Basic Structure

Historic Structure of Local Government

Historically, the parish unit of government in Louisiana served the needs of its spread-out, rural farming people. County governments across the United States have followed the historic English shire structure with its officials:

  • a court
  • a sheriff for tax collection and protection, public works, and poor relief
  • justices of the peace
  • constable(s)
  • coroner

Building on this historic structure and adding a legislative body, the Louisiana Constitution mandates each parish

        (1)  elect                                                    

  • a Clerk of Court, 
  • District Judges
  • a District Attorney
  • District Judges for the Circuit Court of Appeal
  • a Sheriff
  •  an Assessor       
  • Justices of the Peace
  • Constables
  • a Coroner
  •  a parish legislative body                                      
  • a School Board

(2) appoint a Registrar of Voters    

The Louisiana Constitution also requires the parish government to at least partially support the cost of these elected official's services, as well as to build & maintain a court house and jail, and feed and clothe the inmates, and to provide public works.

Political Subdivisions

Parish and city or town governments are classified as political subdivisions of the state of Louisiana--through the Constitution and the Louisiana Legislature which create them, control them to some degree, and define their powers.

County or parish legislative government is the primary, or general service, part of local government.  In Louisiana, parish legislative government may take any of these forms--an elected police jury, commission, or president-council.  Whatever form it takes, however,  the parish government must still support elected public officials'  more specialized services.

Home rule for Lafayette Parish to create a president-council form of local government was permitted by an act of the Louisiana Legislature and the approval of the voters of the state of Louisiana.  

Special-Service Units of Local Government

Although the parish government is considered primary, it does not control or manage all of the special-service units of local government.  Lafayette's primary, or general service parish government, Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government, is separate and independent from the School Board, Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Assessor, Coroner, and other special-service units of local government.   The parish government, as the primary local government, can and does create special-service units as needed, such as boards and commissions.

The Louisiana Legislature also created these additional special service units of government and granted them the authority to levy local property tax: The Teche-Vermilion Freshwater District, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, the Bayou Vermilion District, and the Downtown Development Authority.  They are all supported by local property taxes.  

Federal legislation also creates and helps fund local special service units of local government, one of which is the Metropolitan Area Organization, or MPO. Lafayette Parish's MPO serves several parishes. 

Some of the special service units of government, including some boards and commissions, can ask the voters for taxes and borrow money, either by themselves or through the general-purpose parish government, Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government.

Municipal (Town or City) Government

Incorporation means to become a village, town, or city depending on size of population. Incorporated places are also called municipalities. Generally, the purpose of incorporation is to self-govern—to provide the voters the ability to solve their local problems through their representative government.

The majority of municipalities in Louisiana are governed under the same 1898 law, the Lawrason Act. This law provides a formula, or uniform type of government for the framework and regulation of the governments of Broussard, Duson, Carencro, Scott and Youngsville. These five municipalities in Lafayette Parish have an elected city council or board of aldermen and a mayor.  Their governments are independent of each other and of parish government, the Lafayette Parish City-Parish Consolidated Government.

The Louisiana Legislature's Lawrason Act of 1898 established a uniform type of government for the governance of the municipalities of Louisiana.  The Lawrason Act is currently in place for Broussard, Carencro, Duson, Scott, and Youngsville, and most of other Louisiana municipalities.

Milton is an unincorporated area of the parish and does not have a municipal government.  It belongs to the unincorporated area of the parish and is, therefore, part of Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government.

Decentralization of Local Government

With the addition of each unit of local government, executive power is spread out.   No one unit of local government has had or has today total charge of the parish.  There is no top to bottom organizational chart for the various units of local government in Lafayette Parish.  The units of government are independent,  semi-independent, or interdependent in their governing.   The organizational chart of the major units of local government would be more like a very long line of equal or almost equal players, each with its own goals and separate or semi-separate funding.

Voluntary intergovernmental agreements have helped to build joint effort and capacity to handle issues and needs in common.

Power of the Voters in Local Government

The state of Louisiana delegates the powers and costs of local government to the voters. 

The Constitution of the State of Louisiana gives the people the right to govern by their will to

  • protect the rights of each person
  • secure justice for all
  • preserve peace
  • promote the happiness and general welfare of the people

Voters and residents, in general, affect local government in many important ways:

  • Voting
  • Paying taxes
  • Running for public office
  • Campaigning for a candidate
  • Attending meetings of local units of government
  • Volunteering to be on a board or commission
  • Insisting local government follow open meeting laws
  • Providing public oversight for public projects and services
  • Serving on juries
  • Expressing opinions to public officials
  • Writing letters to the newspapers
  • Offering political forums through civic groups