Special Finance meeting to receive Efficiency/Effectiveness Study…another Dog and Pony Show?

Will SSA study address the real problem with parish government?

Wednesday’s Special Meeting of Ascension Parish Council’s Finance Committee in Gonzales includes a single item:

(4) Presentation/Recommendations by SSA Consultants, Dr. Christel Slaughter on The Ascension Parish Efficiency and Effectiveness Study.

Six months ago, a full ten months into his parish presidency, Kenny Matassa proposed five appointments for Council-ratification at its November 3, 2016 meeting in Donaldsonville.  Pursuant to Ascension’s Home Rule Charter and corresponding ordinances ratification is required for Director of Public Works, Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer, Chief Administrative Officer, Director of Planning and Development, and Personnel Director.  A near unanimous vote, Dempsey Lambert was the lone Council dissenter, deferred ratification until SSA Consultants presented its findings.

Section 3-03(B) of the Charter reads:

The president shall have the power to appoint, subject to ratification, by resolution, by at least a majority of the members of the governing authority, such officers and department heads as may be provided by this charter or by ordinance who shall serve in office until their resignation or removal, from office as herein provided.

A Grand Jury had been scheduled to hear evidence against Matassa, the subject of a six week bribery investigation, less than two weeks later which would explain why the president ran out of Council Chamber like a scalded dog rather than field media questions.  Why had he waited ten months to seek ratification of Bill Roux (DPW Director), Gwen LeBlance (CFO/Treasurer), Ken Dawson (CAO), and Cheryl Kinchen (Personnel Director)?  Planning Director Jerome Fournier had only been on the job five months having been hired in June to replace the fired Ricky Compton.

“We’re paying a substantial amount of money for SSA to analyze the entire organizational structure and it would be foolhardy to ratify these appointments until we have that information,” explained Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee who made the motion to defer.  “After all, President Matassa had ten months to present his appointments and I find it curious he waited until now.”

Cristel Slaughter identified five areas of concern in a preliminary report delivered to Finance in January:

  • A need “to improve communication between department heads, and up through the administration”
  • “Directors need more involvement in hiring, especially new hiring”
  • Lack of “a cohesive plan to prepare for” Ascension’s population growth
  • Need for “streamlined procurement process”
  • Existing “blurry lines of authority”

Half the battle is showing up.

Pelican Post’s lone recommendation; determine who bungled away $5.2 million of state money to fund the Edenborne Connector Road currently being built on the parish’s dime…(actually 24,900,000 dimes).  This is about “Efficiency and Effectiveness” right?

How high will SSA’s study reach?  If Cristel Slaughter fails to address the empty-suited, empty-chaired governance at the very top this will have been another boondoggle perpetrated on the taxpaying citizens of Ascension Parish; a Dog and Pony show staged to dupe those constituents with the Council’s docile complicity.

Was that November 3, 2016 Council meeting just one more in a long line of charades; or did they mean business?  Deferring ratification of those five appointees implied that SSA’s findings will be factored into their ultimate decision, except Dempsey Lambert of course.  He joined Council namesake, Todd Lambert, Oliver Joseph and Travis Turner in opposing the Council’s March 16 resolution requesting Matassa’s resignation/expression of “no confidence.”

The parish president had been indicted for bribery six days earlier.  A trifling matter to some, election rigging.

One ratification, Cheryl Kinchen over Personnel, won’t come before the Council.

“Cheryl Kinchen has taken a new opportunity in parish government working with Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson working on project management,” according to a statement by Public Information Officer Martin McConnell after April’s Finance meeting.

Project Management?  How many employees does Ascension Parish need over project management?  Kinchen’s addition makes ten at last count.  How many projects are ongoing in the parish?

Word was that Kinchen was not going to be ratified had the Council acted on the November 3, 2016 agenda item.  McConnell did not address the affect of Kinchen’s new position on her salary and Ascension’s governmental website identifies Wanda Guillera as “Interim Director” over Personnel.

The Council, several of its membership anyway, would savor denial of DPW Director Bill Roux’s ratification.  Already EA Drainage Director, Roux added the other title when Matassa consolidated the two departments by edict last April.  Roux has made enemies on the Council as evidenced by the latest EA Drainage meeting when he went around the body, or tried to, in designating HNTB, Inc. to perform $300,000 worth of work toward a Floodplain Management Plan; a plan he had promised over seven months ago.  HNTB is already scheduled to bank $3 million of taxpayer money for Levee Certification/Accreditation, a project begun in 2014 with nothing to show for the effort.

Matassa does not appoint the drainage director since the board is a separate entity from parish government, though comprised of ten east bank Council members.  It’s the one area of local government in which Matassa, himself, could be removed and we’d love to see it (okay, another recommendation).  $18 million a year to EA Drainage and what has the Matassa/Roux-run Drainage Department produced?  It can’t even maintain drainage ditches which has mounted a two-year backlog of work orders.

More ominous for east bank drainage, the Board’s point man on the Laurel Ridge Levee project just quit.  Jake Lambert, formerly of GSA Consulting Engineers, was the guy who delivered all those project updates, not that much seemed to be happening.

Utilities is a different story altogether.  Ascension bought a west bank water company last year and machinations are afoot to dive back into east bank sewer treatment; all while Utilities Department has been without a director since Matassa fired Bill Depew in October of 2016.  Un-ratified CAO Ken Dawson has represented the administration (sans Kenny Matassa) at every Utilities Committee meeting in 2017.

“We are in the sewer business; we’re not gonna get out of it”

Dawson’s been on the job for half a decade.  What does Ascension have to show for it?