Profile: Bill Dawson’s 3.5 year tenure (he won’t declare reelection plans)

Bill Dawson (l) with predecessor, Kent Schexnaydre (2015)

Bill Dawson was a force on Ascension’s Parish Council immediately upon being inaugurated on January 4, 2016.  He had a lot to with drafting and ultimate adoption of Transportation Impact Fees imposed on every new construction (outside the limits of three municipalities) which became law on April 7, 2016.  A corporate mover and shaker, Dawson is gubernatorial candidate Edward Rispone’s campaign Treasurer who sat on Ascension Economic Development Corp’s board prior to being elected, he ascended to chair the Council after 12 short months.

Asked to assess three-and-a-half years in office, he listed implementation of impact fees first, writing:

“This implemented a process that requires developers and new residents to pay a fee based on their impact on our road system.  Since adoption in 2016 this program has generated $6.9million and is used in the Move Ascension Program…(T)his road improvement program that did not require any new taxes but dedicated a new bond of $25 million.  We also dedicated an additional $10 million from existing reserve funds.  This program concentrates on traffic flow improvements and has a very open window showing progress and spending through a new web site.”

Nearly every one of the MoveAscension projects targets Prairieville while Hwy 44, the traffic-choked roadway bisecting Dawson’s district is supposed to see a DOTD roundabout along with the one constructed by Conway subdivision.  Conway lies within the City of Gonzales corporate limits, just north of Dawson’s home in Pelican Point Subdivision. 

NOTE-Dawson’s complete response can be viewed separately:

Bill Dawson assesses his time on Parish Council

Inheriting Ascension Environmental, the public-private partnership (P3) supposed to bring sewer to the east bank, abandonment of the proposal was atop of his to-do list in 2017.  That was done in two Februarys ago. Establishing sanitary sewer has proven beyond the grasp of every administration/council since Ascension opted for Home Rule in 1993, perplexing the Police Jury before that.

Dawson wrote:

“Sewer is one issue that has not been addressed in the past term.  When I took office in 2016 there was a parish wide sewer plan on the table.  I took some time and did a detailed evaluation of this plan resulting in the conclusion that the plan was not good for our parish.  It would have cost the parish residents too much and not resulted in parish wide sewer.”

2017: Chairman Bill Dawson and Vice Chairman Oliver Joseph

“During the next term (and the remaining time of this term) there needs to be a solution for parish wide sewer.  We currently have a company interested in providing us with a plan.  There are few details on this, but the prospect is encouraging.  We have been told by LDEQ that we must have a parish wide plan for sewer and LDEQ has already identified several streams (Bayou Manchac being one) as “impaired” (meaning water quality standards have been compromised in these streams).  If we do not have a plan for handling these impaired streams and the rest of the parish, the EPA and LDEQ will provide us with their plan.  As we have seen in other parishes, when these agencies mandate plans, the price doubles or triples.  In light of the above, I believe sewer is a very important goal for the next term.”

The Council approved an agreement with Ascension Sewer, LLC last month.  The company is a self-styled “consortium” cobbled together by Bernhard Capital Partners which includes two engineering firms (GSA Consulting Engineers and Hartman Engineering) and the largest private sewer treatment company in the parish (and Louisiana) Ascension Wastewater Treatment.  The contract provides, “(F)or a period of two (2) years, the Company shall have the exclusive right to negotiate an agreement with the District to construct, manage, operate and maintain the System.”

Not far below on Dawson’s agenda was A Better Ascension’s (ABA) effort to abolish the parish presidency, an initiative he tried to push onto the ballot until its ultimate demise in July 2018.

Dawson convened a Committee of the Whole specifically tasked with vetting ABA’s proposal in August of 2017.  It fizzled out when four Council members bothered to show up at its second meeting two months later.  So the chairman led the Council’s creation of the ill-conceived Ascension Home Rule Charter Revision Committee…

“Let (ABA) elephant out of the room” as Charter Revision Committee ruse exposed

a subterfuge to grant ABA another bite at the apple.  He joined two colleagues, Teri Casso and Aaron Lawler, on the 12-member committee.  Ultimately, they all voted to place ABA’s initiative on the ballot against the rest of Ascension’s Council, multiple of whom grew to resent Bill Dawson mightily for his efforts.

Dawson supported his west bank colleague, Oliver Jospeh’s move to consider redistribution of Prevost Hospital’s annual tax revenues.  58% of west bank voters rejected cutting West Ascension Hospital Service District’s funding in half on November 6, 2018.  It was intended to be the first step in diverting funds to the newly-created body intended to fund construction of recreation facilities on the west bank.

The other momentous event for the west bank was Ascension’s purchase of Peoples Water Company, details of which were ironed out prior to Dawson’s election.  His tenure did include the unanimous vote to spend $5.9 million in existing funds to buy the company, re-branded Parish Utilities of Ascension.  $17 million (a $10 million loan/$7 million grant) from USDA is earmarked to upgrade the dilapidated utility.

Most recently Dawson made the motion to increase construction elevation requirements, adding a foot to Ascension’s Base Flood Elevation, plus 1′.  The amendment was added into an ordinance written to cap fill material at three feet.  President Kenny Matassa would go on to veto the entire ordinance.

The Council will consider overriding the veto at its next meeting on June 6 of which Dawson wrote:

“The new Floodplain Management Ordinance will (if the veto is over ridden) limit the amount of fill in the floodplain to three feet.  This would keep new subdivisions from digging ponds and putting seven to eight feet of fill in the 100 year Floodplain.  The second major change in this ordinance is to raise the elevation of new structures to two feet above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE).  The current ordinance requires them to only be one foot above the BFE.  This is the recommendation of the Association of State FloodPlain Managers (ASFPM).  It is the requirement of FEMA when a structure is substantially damaged.  It is the requirement of Restore Louisiana for mitigation funding.  It will lower the flood insurance premiums as much as 50% for the new residents.  I helped draft the new ordinance and strongly support the override of the veto.

Is this the last split with the lame-duck president, Kenny Matassa?

Dawson prominently displayed on Matassa campaign Facebook post.

There was a brief moment in time when Dawson took up office space at the Governmental Complex as a de facto member of Matassa’s administration.  As likely as not, calls to the councilman would find him in the company of Mike Enlow, an Assistant Director of DPW.  It coincided with construction of the Edenborne Connector Road linking Hwy 44 to St. Landry Rd and Lamar Dixon Expo Center.

Dawson had healed any rift with Matassa after voting No Confidence in March of 2017 when the president faced felony bribery charges.

NOTE: Dawson declined to state whether he will seek reelection on October 12.

Joel Robert (l) has declared his intention to run for the District 2 seat currently occupied by Bill Dawson.