Open Letter from President Matassa

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

The argument of the organization “A Better Ascension” is that parish government, led by an elected president, isn’t effective or transparent. I have plenty of respect for the men who are leading this organization, but they are wrong and the record proves it.

On transparency: Every contract is approved by the Council. Every budget is approved by the Council. Job titles and salary ranges are approved by the Council. Public bids are accepted by the Council. How would the manager be any more transparent than that? On effectiveness: In my first year in office, I proposed 10 top projects to focus on accomplishing, and I am happy to say that we’ve completed the vast majority of them. These are major projects and changes in parish culture. And we got them done.

Out of the top 10, I want to highlight a few accomplishments:

-The extension of Edenborne Parkway to St. Landry Road that provides an additional connection between Lamar-Dixon and I-10, talked about for years. We got it done.

-A new waste water treatment facility and a discharge line to the Mississippi River to reduce impairment of interior waterways. This is the number one priority of DEQ for Ascension Parish. We got it done.

-Traffic impact fees got done, so developers can pay more for our transportation needs.

-An organization our size should have its structure and compensation reviewed regularly, but this had not been done in some time. We got it done.

-The Parish’s software system is from the 1980s. We needed to bring our system up to current industry standards, and we got it done.

-A new multi-million dollar athletic complex at Lamar-Dixon that improves recreation and entertainment throughout the Parish, and we got it done.

In addition to the top 10 projects, we also accomplished:

-A new multi-year music festival at Lamar-Dixon.

-The consolidation of drainage and public works operations for better bridge, road and grass maintenance.

-The start of the “Move Ascension” initiative to invest millions in road construction and improvements.

-Drainage partnerships with neighboring parishes as we lobby federal officials to focus on regional solutions.

This doesn’t even touch the heroic efforts and accomplishments of parish employees as we led the response to the August 2016 flood and recovery.

All of this work done without asking for additional taxes.

The challenges we face are big, and I know that I don’t have all the answers. But by working with the Council and my employees, we have made great steps forward in providing effective service to the people of Ascension Parish. Again, how can a manager represent the people in a more effective way?

The manager, just by position, isn’t any more effective or transparent than an elected president. But a manager is no longer accountable to the people. Instead, the manager is a tool of someone else. The right of the people to choose their leaders at the ballot box is sacred. The people want to choose their president, their sheriff, their clerk of court, their assessor, their mayor. And there’s a good reason for that—the people can hold an elected official accountable.

As I have discussed this proposal with others, a few questions rise to the top in these early days:

1) We don’t know who is funding this organization, because the organizers intentionally created a shadow non-profit to hide contributions. Who are the funders and why are they hiding? Why don’t the organizers see the plain hypocrisy in their lack of transparency?

2) The corporate makeup of this organization is excluding important voices in the Parish. Why doesn’t this organization’s board have any minority, female or west bank representation?

3) If the police jury model they are proposing is so clearly better, when will they propose the appointment by the Council of the sheriff or assessor? Or at the least, shouldn’t they push for the budgets of other elected leaders be approved by the Council?

4) If the police jury model they are proposing is so effective and transparent, why do voters across Louisiana continue to abandon it?

5) The roll out of this organization is very fast and seems driven to get on the November ballot. Why did they think only a few weeks of discussion would be enough for such a big change to land on the Council agenda?

In the end, this is about power, not anything else. I will stand with the people and their right to vote. I will not stand with a small group of special interests looking to take control from the voters.