Matassa asks for return of contracting authority/ratification of appointments

On August 4, 2016 a visibly shaken President Kenny Matassa voluntarily ceded all authority to enter into contracts on behalf of Ascension Parish without approval of the Council.  “The Matassa Tapes” had been disseminated three days prior which would spawn a six week investigation resulting in Matassa’s indictment for bribery.  Matassa stammered his way through a prepared statement then:

“I know this controversy we are facing is difficult and I understand that this is a time that tests us all.  This Council does a great job for the people of the Parish.  My employees do a great job for the people of Ascension Parish.  Our government is not crippled or broken.  I will continue to listen to your suggestions about Parish Government.  I will continue to give my employees what they need to serve the people.  I will send to you every contract, no matter how much money it is to you for your approval and I ask that you keep my family and myself in your prayers.

Preceding administration’s possessed unilateral contracting authority up to $50,000 but Matassa willingly reduced that by half in February of 2016 when he’d been on the job a month.  His attempt to hire C.W. “Bill” McCord for $48,000 to do, well…what was he going to do?  It was rebuffed by the Council, eight members of which had endorsed Matassa weeks before the November 21, 2015 runoff election which he won by 117 votes.

“He’s going to examine each department and look at each employee’s responsibilities, you know, try to give me a report on each one of them,” Matassa tried to sell McCord to the Council’s Finance Committee on February 1, 2016.  “If we get to the point that we need a company to come in and do assessments, he will recommend that to me.”

SSA Consultants was hired to perform a Compensation Study some months later, and a second study, Efficiency and Effectiveness of Parish Government was subsequently added to its task orders. The company’s services were engaged without McCord’s recommendation and he was never hired.

Over a year in the crafting, SSA’s results were presented over two Finance Committee meetings since April.

Reorganize Parish Government concludes Efficiency/Effectiveness Study

The recommendation is “Reorganize Parish Government” which sounds like a complete tear down and start from scratch.  Most disturbing are SSA’s findings with regard to treatment of parish employees:

You have some real morale problems…I did not anticipate the amount of fear that is out there among frontline employees…It went all the way up to department heads.

Who is instilling that fear?  While he may not have independent contracting authority, it is Matassa who does the hiring and firing for Ascension Parish.

The list of Matassa casualties is lengthy, highlighted by the firings of Planning Director Ricky Compton on March 4, 2016; and Utilities Director Bill Depew in October of 2016.  Depew’s predecessor, Bob Horner, lasted less than a week into Matassa’s administration being handed his walking papers last January.  That’s why Matassa’s 85-second address to the Council on Thursday is all the more befuddling.

He read (the best he could anyway) from a prepared text:

When I took office a year and a half ago I saw an organization pieced together under three different administrations that still worked out under the police jury system.  Among the first things I asked the Council was to empower me to review and organize from the top to the bottom.

It’s been a long road but today I have two surveys which provide us important data to begin the need for the change.

Parish government is full of great servants who wake up each morning to improve the lives, the quality of life of our residents.  I want to thank my employees for all their hard work.  I want them to know that I will defend them and encourage them in every step of the way in this process.

A better organization means a happier workforce.  A happier workforce means more productivity and created (inaudible).  I’m ready to work with the Council to empower me to get these things done, including ratifying me employ, employees and returning contract authority to the administration.  Together we can create an organization both employees and the public will be proud of.

The Council deferred ratification of those employees (Bill Roux-DPW Director, Gwen LeBlanc-CFO/Treasurer, Ken Dawson-CAO, Jerome Fournier-Planning Director, and Cheryl Kinchen-Personnel Director) on last November to await SSA’s report.  That report cannot have instilled any confidence in Matassa’s administration, and yet…he still made the request.  Of course, everyone knows it wasn’t Matassa’s brainchild.

It puts the Council, six of its membership having voted “No Confidence” and sought Matassa’s resignation on March 16, on the spot.