East Ascension Drainage meeting devolves into shouting matches, goes to recess

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
Ascension Parish Council members Alvin "Coach" Thomas, Joel Robert, and Corey Orgeron are shown during the July 1 meeting at the courthouse in Donaldsonville.

The East Ascension Drainage Board meeting held Oct. 18 in Gonzales went to recess after board members and members of the public in attendance began shouting among each other.

Law enforcement officers intervened after board members Corey Orgeron and Joel Robert began to argue back and forth.

The conflicts began over disagreements on the hiring of Bill Roux of William Roux LLC as a liaison to the board and the administration for a $50,000 year-to-year contract.

William "Bill" Roux is a former Ascension Parish drainage director, who retired in 2018 after 18 years of service.

After the recess, the board voted 8-0 to defer the matter to the next drainage meeting, set for Nov. 8.

Robert did not return to his seat after the recess. Travis Turner was absent, and Alvin "Coach" Thomas does not sit on the board as his district lies entirely on the west side of the parish.

Joel Robert, a member of the East Ascension Drainage Board, looks on during a meeting held earlier in the month in Donaldsonville.

Before voting, board member Chase Melancon said he saw the need for a liaison, but would like to further discuss the role of the position.

Board member Teri Casso asked the members to commit to "flesh this role out." 

"Mr. Roux nor this board had a great publicist for many years," Casso said. "People, particularly new to the parish, have no idea the magnitude and scope of projects done in Ascension Parish over the last 25 years. It's unbelievable. And Mr. Roux's finger prints are on almost every one of those."

Parish President Clint Cointment offered his full support of fleshing out the details for the role.

"It is worth $50,000 for us to all work together," Cointment said.

Prior to the entanglements that led to the recess, Orgeron said the board and the administration were at odds on June 28, which was the date of the controversial board meeting when members voted to remove Cointment as the director of drainage.

The special meeting had been called to void the contract between the district and 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 meeting included numerous residents speaking during the public-comment portions of each agenda item, reminiscent of the previous full council meeting when the nine-month moratorium on new developments passed.  

Orgeron, who represents the Prairieville area for District 4, said the only way the board could get attention was to take the steps they took, utilizing the idiom of breaking eggs to make a omelette.

At that point, Orgeron addressed a member of the audience.

"Your egos are writing checks your butts can't cash," he said.

"That's enough!" could be heard from the crowd.

"You can sit yourself down," Orgeron countered.

"You do not talk to the voters that way," came from the audience.

"I just did. I just did," Orgeron followed.

Chair Dempsey Lambert tried to interject with his gavel, but the exchanges continued.

"This is three months I've been dealing with this garbage," Orgeron said at one point.

Moments later Orgeron and Robert, who were sitting near each other, began to argue after Robert banged on the table and said "shut up."

After officers intervened, the board left their seats and went to recess.

Earlier in the meeting, Robert said he disagreed with the decision to hire Roux.

"I feel like this is just a waste of time," Robert said. "It's accomplishing nothing. It's a little bit of a dog and pony show, if I may."

Cointment reinstated as drainage director

Also during the meeting, Cointment was reinstated officially as the head of drainage after the administration and members announced during a news conference that an agreement had been reached after much negotiation.

The votes from the June 28 meeting were overturned and a new agreement addendum was added to the contract, which dates back to Feb. 25, 2009.

Ascension Parish Council member Corey Orgeron

Orgeron apologized later

According to reports from Baton Rouge television stations WBRZ and WAFB, Orgeron expressed regret for his actions.

In speaking to WBRZ, Orgeron said he "flashed back" and jumped to defend himself, which he said he regrets.

"I regret getting to that point," the District 4 council member told the station.

Orgeron told WAFB that he had "a lot of regret," adding that he is normally not a person who gets that frustrated.

Orgeron told WAFB that was physically attacked on the previous Friday by an angry client of his law practice. 

He told the station he was knocked to the ground, and beaten and kicked.