Membership has its privileges and, if you happen to be an insider in Parish President Kenny Matassa’s circle, privilege becomes entitlement; the taxpayers of Ascension Parish owe those insiders a living. GSA Consulting Engineers, good for a maximum $2,500 contribution and a place for Matassa’s campaign to meet every Tuesday in 2015 was the recipient of a $2,350,000 contract increase without competitive bidding. Good for $5,000 in 2015 and a recusal from Matassa’s criminal prosecution in 2017, Charles Long’s legal firm conceivably stands to pocket much more.
Guardians of the purse, Ascension’s feckless Parish Council stood idly by while Matassa played Santa to his helpers.
In August 2017 GSA was awarded a contract worth $150,000 to perform engineering work in the effort to secure funding from United States Department of Agriculture intended to pay for upgrades of Peoples Water Company. The parish purchased the dilapidated system on September 21, 2016 knowing significant improvements, and capital investment, were needed. The USDA loan ($9.5 million)/grant (just under $8 million) is supposed to replace one-third of the worst pipes and other physical assets.
The value of GSA’s contract was increased by a factor of 17 when the Council approved ” Drinking Water Infrastructure Improvements Project” as part of the December 13 Consent Agenda. It was added pursuant to a Utilities Committee recommendation two days earlier. Never once was the contract amount mentioned during the Utilities deliberation.
The original contract was competitively bid through the parish’s Request for Proposal process in mid-2017. How many more firms would have participated in an RFP valued at $2.5 million?
Ascension, like many municipalities, is seeking damages against the pharmaceutical industry for opioid addiction and corresponding costs to local government. The Parish Council considered hiring a law firm to represent Ascension on July 19 when the agenda included:
(10) Approval of Contract for Legal Services – Opiod Lawsuit – Leger & Shaw (Legal Counsel O’Neil Parenton)
Official meeting minutes memorialize the Council’s unanimous approval of Leger & Shaw:
“Legal Counsel presented the Contract for Legal Service – Opioid Lawsuit – Leger & Shaw. He explained that this firm had gone through the RFP process and that this contract had been used in many other jurisdiction (sic) and was approved by the Attorney General. A motion was made by Councilman Benny Johnson and seconded by Councilwoman Teri Casso. The motion passed with no opposition.”
The subject Request for Qualifications, under Scope of Services, read “The Parish may employ a law firm with specialized legal expertise to investigate and possibly pursue litigation against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids.” Leger & Shaw fit the bill, representing other municipalities in similar litigation, St. Tammany Parish and the City of New Orleans to name two.
So far so good. But the contract inked by President Kenny Matassa on July 30 included a second law firm…
Long & Long was never mentioned at the July 19 Council meeting, not on the agenda, and not mentioned verbally.
Contractual terms empower “Attorneys” to choose between “the higher of…Fees Set by Court or Agreement with Defendants…(or) Contingency Fee.” The Contingency Fee option includes a graduated fee schedule:
- 25% of the first $50 million of recovery
- 20% of any funds in excess of $50 million and less than $100 million
- 15% of any funds in excess of $100 million and less than $250 million
- 10% of any funds in excess of $250 million
There is a nice payday to be had. Why is Long & Long in line for any part of it?
What special legal expertise does it have in opioid litigation?
Why was Long & Long’s contractual inclusion omitted from the Council agenda and never discussed before the public?