OUR OPINION: Drainage move should be carefully viewed

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

After six months apart, it seems like two old friends want to make amends.

During its meeting in Gonzales Monday, The East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District discussed the possibility of reuniting, putting control of the district’s day-to-day operations back under the parish president after an acrimonious split at the end of 2007.

We all remember the turmoil of what many in parish government are calling the “dark days” of relations between the district and parish government. Then-Parish President Ronnie Hughes told the commissioners at the time that he wanted veto power over them, a move which did not sit well with the commission. After months of debate, squabbling and outright vitriol on some parts, the commission elected to go its own way and not renew its contract with Hughes, who later chose not to seek a second term in office.

Some say that the district’s decision to separate from parish government was a good one. With new general manager Bill Roux jumping ship to climb on board with the drainage district, projects seemingly dead or mired in red tape for years suddenly came back to life. The district is more accountable for its spending and its scheduling of projects. Jeff Olendorf, a Prairieville resident, told the commission Monday that he’s seeing drainage projects in his area done for the first time in 20 years.

Supporters of the move say that bringing the department back under the auspices of parish government would allow for smoother waters. The employees would all be under one roof and under one banner, instead of what Martinez called “a house divorced” Monday. They say this would also stop duplication of services in some areas, which costs both the parish and district unnecessary spending.

Another way to look at a possible reunion is that times have changed, and so have many of the faces. On one side, you have a 10-person board that now features five new members. On the other, you have a parish president returning to office after an eight-year absence. As we have seen, the relation between the commission (read: Parish Council)? and parish president have been pretty friendly since the start of the year. Gone are the venomous exchanges between Hughes and a council/commission that battled each other until the bitter end. With more harmony than hatred between the entities now, perhaps everyone can all just get along now. But, such a relationship is not set in stone, and doubts always linger about a possible falling out at any time.

Some who oppose the merger say that Martinez is simply playing politics with his pals on the commission and with Roux. Gonzales resident Kathryn Goppelt, who has been known to voice her opinion on many government issues, told the commission Monday that she feels the move is purely political, citing a memo from Roux to the commission in January that splitting the departments has been positive, yet Roux is now backing merging the two operations back together.

The commission will review the matter in committee before making a decision at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 8. No matter which way the board chooses to go in this matter, we hope that the voices of residents within the district are heard. We hope the commission will keep itself culpable of spending our tax dollars on what they are supposed to be funding – drainage projects – and to work to ease drainage woes in the district as fast as possible.