Mere discussion of holding Parish Council meetings in Gonzales: “A slap in the face” to Donaldsonville

Geographical (and demographic) arrow point to Gonzales

Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan and a handful of his west bank Ascension constituents traveled to Gonzales Courthouse East on Thursday to attend Ascension’s Council Strategic Planning Committee meeting.  Chairman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, who represents District 4 in Prairieville, led a “Discussion” to conduct “all regularly scheduled meetings” of the Council in Gonzales and Sullivan was not happy about it.  The mayor  deemed the discussion “a slap in the face to the citizens” he represents.

Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan before Thursday meeting

“There should not be a conversation about that.”

Donaldsonville Councilman Oliver Joseph, along with Councilman Aaron Lawler whose District 7 lies in Prairieville, agreed with Mayor Sullivan, when it came their turn to speak.  Abruptly offering “No Comment,” followed just as quickly by Joseph’s motion to adjourn and Lawler’s second, they drew Thursday’s meeting to a close.  Strategic Planning’s other members, Benny Johnson of Prairieville and John Cagnolatti of Gonzales, did not show up on Thursday.

“Didn’t we just spend $210,000 for a study on efficiency and effectiveness in local government?” asked Kathryn Goppelt, longtime political activist whose meeting attendance stretches back decades.  “In a recent interview Councilman (Benny) Johnson stated ‘he doesn’t let the old way of doing things overshadow the best way, and he always looks for new methods to improve government.  Are these principles he lives by or just political hypocrisy?”

Johnson was not present to answer and his colleagues would not.

Goppelt was referring to SSA Consultants which was hired in 2016 to study Ascension’s compensation of employees, then tasked by the Council’s Finance Committee to produce an Efficiency-Effectiveness Study.  Chairman Satterlee presented 15 bullet points to make the case for such lofty goals, hinging his argument on Ascension’s drastic population migration to the north, and east of the Mississippi River.  It is indisputable that Gonzales, smack dab in the center of Ascension, is more easily accessible for the vast majority of parish residents than is Donaldsonville, even with its historic courthouse.

History, nostalgia, and little else on its side, the Donaldsonville contingent tugged at the heartstrings.

“I hear all the time that, ‘Well, you have only 9 to 10 percent of the population on the west bank, you know, and well you have a lot of poverty, or you have this and you have that,’” Mayor Sullivan made his city’s case. “The Bible tells us that the poor’s going to be with us always, but that doesn’t mean you have to neglect those who are less fortunate than some of us are…What we need to do is try to embrace the people and get them more involved.  Why would you not want to have meetings on the west bank of Ascension Parish when we say, ‘Ascension Parish?’”

The fact that he traveled to Gonzales Courthouse East, where every one of the Council’s five Standing Committees regularly meet, “sort of answers” Sullivan’s question according to frequent meeting attendee Jeff Pettit.

“Just because it’s always been in Donaldsonville, well, things change, and change is hard for people to accept. Prairieville was probably mostly cow pastures 20, 30 years ago. Now, it’s house, after house, after house,” said Pettit, a Gonzales-area retiree and fixture at council meetings, east and west. “You just have to recognize that it’s extremely difficult for people that work and live in Prairieville, if they wanted to attend a meeting, to have any chance of making it through the parish and across the bridge to do so.”

Tim Riley, who resides in the City of Gonzales, and Jeff Pettit, whose Gonzales address is outside the city limits, confer on Thursday

Chairman Satterlee hit on those points, adding recent installation of equipment to enhance meetings at Gonzales Courthouse East, among his bullet points.

  • 90%+ of Ascension’s residents live east of the Mississippi River
  • 96% of property Ascension’s property tax is collected from east bank residents
  • 10 of Ascension’s 11 council members reside east of the Mississippi (District 2 Councilman Bill Dawson also maintains a Donaldsonville residence)
  • Electronic voting and high definition screens are installed in Gonzales Courthouse East (not in Donaldsonville’s courthouse)
  • Necessary personnel to conduct meetings are stationed at the new Governmental Complex, a block away from Gonzales Courthouse East

Satterlee would add “the persistent public perception exists that controversial issues are intentionally scheduled for Donaldsonville meetings to avoid public scrutiny.  True or not, a significant percentage of our citizens believe it.”  Nothing was done to dispel that notion on Thursday.

“This is a joke. That’s his personal agenda. … personal,” Councilman Joseph would say of Doc Satterlee after the meeting was over.