Residents angered over East Ascension Drainage attempt to replace president

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Some Ascension Parish residents took to social media over the weekend to air their concerns over some members of the East Ascension Drainage Commission seeking to remove and replace the parish president as leader.

Ascension Parish Council members Dempsey Lambert, Aaron Lawler, and Teri Casso listen to a speaker during the June 3 meeting at the courthouse in Donaldsonville.

The special meeting of the commission June 28 was called to void the contract between the district and Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment. It called for the establishment of a Chief Executive Officer of the district, and approval of a contract with William Roux LLC as interim CEO.

The agenda also called for 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.

William Roux LLC was registered June 24, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State's business records. William "Bill" Roux is a retired parish drainage director. 

In the days leading up to the meeting, commissioners Teri Casso and Aaron Lawler appeared in local television reports stating the parish needs a drainage professional at the helm.

Chase Melancon, who serves as Vice Chair of the EADC, said in a social media post June 24 that he received a call notifying him of the meeting at 1 p.m. to remove the president as drainage director.

Melancon said it was the first time he had been made aware that any such actions taking place.

"I can only assume I was intentionally left out of any conversations being had about the idea. So that's what I know, and not a thing more," Melancon stated.

Cointment released a statement via social media touting the more than 100 million dollars’ worth of projects started in just 18 months.

"We know there is still work to be done, though we feel that over $100 million dollars of projects in 18 months is a good start!" Cointment stated.

Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment

Over the weekend, Lawler thanked everyone who respectfully expressed their opinions to him regarding EADC leadership.

He suggested creating a spot on the commission for the parish president and allowing the commissioners to "appoint someone to sit in their stead if they wish."

Days earlier, commissionerJoel Robert said he was "befuddled" by the "blatant disregard for The People" in an attack on Cointment and his administration's progress.

Gonzales resident Jeff Pettit, in commenting to the Weekly Citizen, agreed more drainage work has been accomplished in 18 months, despite the pandemic, than in a decade and a half.

Pettit said he suspects the commission's move is a step to revert back to the former policy jury system, and eventually, to eliminate the parish president position and hire a parish manager.

"Put it to a vote of the people. Put it on a ballot. If ten east bank council members automatically become drainage commissioners, then the parish president can automatically become drainage director," Pettit said.

Nicole Halford Fall also commented, saying parish residents are tired of not being heard by the people elected to be their voice.

She recalled the last meeting of the full council when the public hearing was held on the proposed 12-month moratorium on new developments. Ultimately, the council voted for a nine-month version.

"A handful of builders and developers spoke out against the president’s plan, yet when the vote was done, the majority of the council voted against what the people clearly supported," Fall said.

A Facebook group called Ascension Citizens for Change has been gaining traction, she added. As of late June 27, the group had more than 500 members.

"There is a petition that was created on Saturday that is gaining momentum. We will be at the meetings and out talking to our neighbors to take this parish back," she said.

Back in 2017, a group called A Better Ascension sought to change the parish home rule charter and create a parish executive position, following the leadership structure large companies have.

Kenny Matassa, who was parish president at the time, stated the group was backed by special interests and wanted to take away residents' right to vote for a president, as they have for other leadership positions like sheriff and mayor.