Recall efforts arise out of recent Ascension Parish Council actions

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Some residents have decided to take action through recalls of certain Ascension Parish Council members.

Ascension Parish Council member Corey Orgeron, shown during the July 1 meeting in Donaldsonville, is among the targets of recall efforts.

A flurry of activity has riled up citizens, some of whom admit to being previously uninterested in the parish's political sphere. A groundswell of discussions has been simmering across social media.

"As far as politics go, I have never been one to do anything more than shake my head in disbelief and occasionally yell at my computer or TV," Kathy Wright Delatte commented to the Weekly Citizen's online callout. "I have felt most of us are pretty much at the mercy of those in Washington, D.C., when it concerns politics at the national level."

Originally from Missouri, she moved to Gonzales after marrying a man she met while they were both serving in the military in the mid-1980s. She has been a registered nurse for two decades. 

"After living here for 34 years, I've long realized there is truly this 'good ole boy' thing in the local political arena," she said.

Delatte pointed out the personality clashes between Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment and some of the council members. The tense relationships have boiled over during recent meetings.

After the charged council meeting in Gonzales to decide the moratorium on new developments, the frustrated parish president was in the middle of an interview with local media when District 4's Corey Orgeron walked up and interrupted. The two exchanged verbal jabs in a brief back-and-forth episode.

During the prior council meeting in Donaldsonville, Orgeron handed Cointment a lawsuit. Orgeron, a practicing attorney, has said the president and his administration have withheld information.

During the April 1 council meeting, Cointment announced that he would no longer field questions from the council members at meetings. The decision was made due to not always being able to provide adequate information to citizens in real time.

In prior meetings, the president would take questions from council members during the president's report. At the time, Cointment said he reviewed meetings and found negative and contentious portions stemmed from the casual question-and-answer sessions. 

Ascension Parish Council member Aaron Lawler looks on during the July 1 meeting at the courthouse in Donaldsonville. He is among the members recall organizers have targeted.

Council members Aaron Lawler and Teri James Casso both said they did not agree with the decision, but both mentioned they respected his right to decline answering questions.

All of the wrangling came to a climax during the June 28 special meeting of the East Ascension Drainage Commission. 

Despite pleas from several public speakers, the EADC voted to remove Cointment and establish a Chief Executive Officer position. Bill Roux LLC was approved as interim CEO.

Among the dismayed speakers was Theresa Robert.

"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," Robert said.

The public backlash from some was immediate as many took to social media to vent frustrations.

"I was angry, sad, and quite disgusted frankly," said Delatte in recalling the EADC meeting.

She added that the recall effort is a daunting undertaking and has not been taken lightly.

"I am definitely in uncharted territory, but I do feel it is necessary at this moment to take a stand. And from the feedback I'm getting, there are numerous others just like me," Delatte said.

Elizabeth Earnhart said she would like to see Cointment involved with the EADC.

"The more people with experience on drainage on the board the better," she said.

Earnhart added she does not support a recall of her representative, Dal Waguespack.

"I feel people are not understanding the whole picture of what goes on behind the scenes. It leads them to fill in the gaps with their own speculations and projections of corruption, where none exists for some of the good ones," Earnhart said.

Brent Leigh pointed out that despite the speakers at meetings and social media commenters, the council members have supporters.

"The thing is the supporters are quiet," he said.

Leigh said he tried to post in a local Facebook group and was immediately set upon by the opposition.

"They’re angry, I get it, but they are far from rational in this recall effort," he said.

An "Ascension Parish Citizens Meeting" is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at the VFW Hall on Churchpoint Road.

The members named for recall are: Orgeron, Lawler, Casso, Waguespack, Dempsey Lambert, and John Cagnolatti.