East Ascension Drainage Commission removes parish president, approves CEO

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

The East Ascension Drainage Commission, during a special meeting June 28, voted to void the contract of Parish President Clint Cointment, establish a Chief Executive Officer position, and hire Bill Roux LLC as interim CEO.

Ascension21 YouTube stream of East Ascension Drainage Board - June 28, 2021: https://youtu.be/UV9z9umh6Qk

East Ascension Drainage Commission holds a special meeting June 28.

The commission also approved an intergovernmental agreement with the parish to continue administrative functions as part of the four percent annual fee with additional conditions as to the separation of personnel and assets.

The meeting included numerous residents speaking during the public-comment portions of each agenda item, reminiscent of the last full council meeting when the nine-month moratorium on new developments passed.  

Kathryn Goppelt called the move to oust Cointment as leader of the drainage district a "knee-jerk reaction." 

"It's not too late to do the right thing," she said.

Denise Emmons and other speakers showed commissioners photos of flooding around their property.

Susan Jordan said everything proposed was "suddenly and secretively" put on the agenda.

"Let him do his job for all of us," Jordan said of the parish president.

Tim Babin said people are "fed up" with politics going on "behind closed doors."

Cointment supporters in the audience wore blue in solidarity, as Denise Drago pointed out.

Chris Hebert said "tonight is the night to make a political statement."

Many pointed to Cointment's surveyor background as one of the reasons he was elected president.

One speaker brought up the June 24 business filing of William Roux LLC the day before the special media was called.

Roux is the former Department of Public Works director who worked for the parish for 17 years.

Kathy Edmonston, a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives representing District 88, said progress has been made at the local, state, and federal level. She asked the commissioners not to jeopardize it.

Theresa Robert called the plan to remove the president "irrational." 

"Citizens elected you to solve our drainage problems, not to pass them off to an appointed person or commission voters cannot hold accountable," Robert said.

She concluded by showing a The Far Side cartoon commissioner Aaron Lawler posted on Facebook. The drawing shows a crowd of people carrying an upside-down sign that reads "Imbeciles of America."

The Far Side is a single-panel comic created by Gary Larson, which ran from 1979 to 1995.

Charla Johnson called the special meeting "shenanigans." She also referenced the comic.

Many of the same speakers addressed the council during the public hearing for the moratorium on new development.

Vice Chair Chase Melancon read the names of everyone who filled out a card but did not desire to speak.

In moving to the discussion, Melancon explained how members made a trip to Harris County in Texas, the seat of which is Houston. The county has a roughly 4.7 million population.

Melancon then offered a motion to table the item.

Travis Turner suggested a "cooling off period" to discuss the move and "come to a happy medium."

Cointment praised the work of Ron Savoy, who serves as assistant drainage director and operations manager.

Savoy followed with a passionate response to the commissioners.

"Harris County. Three billion dollar budget and they flooded," Savoy said. "Not long ago I'd be willing to bet you. So, I might lose my job over this, and that's OK. My heart and my soul says if my morality has to be challenged to do my job, then you guys...I'm walking. And I'm not gonna do that."

He said some things are "just not going to be fixed."

Many in the audience gave Savoy a standing ovation.

Dal Waguespack said he appreciated the public works employees. 

A motion to table failed 6-4. Robert, Turner, Melancon, and Mason voted yes.

The original item passed 6-4. The same four voted against.

Lambert then called for a recess.

During the recess, Cointment spoke to members of the media.

"I'm never going to stop fighting and working hard for them. Ever," Cointment said in referring to residents of the parish.

On the item for approval to establish a CEO, Lambert opened the floor to the public again.

"This is probably one of the saddest nights I've ever spent with the parish council. I've been involved for 43 years in this parish," Theresa Robert said.

Ricky Carmouche called the decision "disgusting."

"We're going to pack this house full," Carmouche said.

Chief Administrative Officer John Diez asked questions before the vote.

"What does Ron tell his employees tomorrow?" Diez asked.

Melancon also had questions, asking about qualifications for the CEO position.

The commission voted 7-3 to establish the position. Robert, Melancon, and Mason voted no.

Lambert then opened the floor again to the public.

Mason asked why the professional services contract did not have to go through the bid process.

The next agenda item was to approve William Roux LLC as interim CEO.

First, the commissioners voted 5-5 against an amended motion.

They then voted 6-4 for the approval of the contract.

Then came the intergovernmental agreement, which Melancon said he had "objections and questions."

"This is going to be painful," Savoy said. "I need to know what to tell our people."

The intergovernmental agreement passed 7-3. The commission then went into executive session.