Citizens voice opposition to East Ascension Drainage's previous actions

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
A crowd of citizens attended the East Ascension Drainage meeting held July 12.

A crowd of citizens attended the July 12 meeting of the East Ascension Drainage Board, many making their feelings known about the actions approved during the previous meeting.

Initially, Chair Dempsey Lambert announced that the meeting would be rescheduled due to a lack of quorum. Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment and Lambert briefly huddled to discuss the possibility of holding the meeting. 

It was decided that the meeting would carry on, though the members would not be able to vote on any matters.

Lambert noted the absence of Travis Turner, Chase Melancon, Joel Robert, Corey Orgeron, and Teri Casso. In attendance were Lambert, Aaron Lawler, Dal Waguespack, John Cagnolatti, and Michael Mason. District 1's Alvin "Coach" Thomas, who represents the parish's westbank, is not a member of the board.

As the meeting kicked off with the chair's report, Waguespack asked to speak.

"I do hear you. I do hear your concerns. I wanted to let everyone know as we move forward, I'm going to ask my fellow drainage board members to bring back all four items that we had, so we can have a discussion," Waguespack said, referring to the previous meeting when the board voted to remove Cointment as the head of drainage.

Waguespack then referred to a meeting held the night before between the administration and some of the council. He thanked the Chamber of Commerce for facilitating the meeting.

Cointment pointed out it was recognized at the meeting that there is "fault on both sides."

"There's some personality challenges here, on the board and in the administration," the president said.

Though a compromise has not been been made yet, Cointment said he remains hopeful as the plan is to continue to meet.

"You deserve a thousand meetings until we get it right," he said.

Lambert then opened the public-comment portion for the acceptance of minutes for the previous meeting, held June 28.

Lonnie Vicknair, who went up first, said he has been living in the parish for six years to be close to children and grandchildren.

"We're thinking about moving," he said. "We have flooded three times in six years."

Susan Jordan followed, contending that the move to remove Cointment as drainage director during the last meeting was a violation of both the president's contract and the parish home rule charter.

Theresa Robert added that the ousting of Cointment was the proverbial straw that "broke the camel's back."

"There was the moratorium question, which we did not like the way it passed, we did not like the timeline, and we did not like all of the things in the council's consideration as opposed to Cointment's," Robert said.

She also brought up concerns of what she called pro-development planning and zoning commission members.

"Will you represent citizens, or hide behind government bureaucracy?" Robert asked.

Ian Savoy told the commissioners he has been in temporary housing after flooding for the second time in five years in the Bluff area.

He asked why the questions posed during the June 28 meeting have yet to be answered.

Following the public comments, Cagnolatti began to speak. A few moments later, he was interrupted by shouting from the audience.

Cagnolatti said he was not at the July 11 meeting since only a few council members could participate to prevent a quorum.

"There's a lot to be done. Tensions are running high. We understand that," Cagnolatti said before being interrupted again.

"Let him speak!" could be heard from the audience.

"We ask you to be patient. Please," Cagnolatti continued.

Later in the meeting, Lawler began to speak about the seeking of compromise and was interrupted by voices in the crowd. 

"We do hear you. In my time here, I've seen that things can be done better. And that's all we're trying to do," Lawler said.

He called the meeting the previous night "productive."

Lawler said he has heard "a lot of misconceptions" and "things that are flat-out wrong."

Moments later, he shook his head and said, "Nevermind...pointless."

Just before the meeting adjourned, Lawler said anyone can call him, if they would like.