Parish President’s forum focuses on subdivision development

On Thursday Little Prairie Baptist Church hosted the first of four scheduled forums for the Ascension Parish President’s election (October 12), featuring all four qualified candidates.  Without uttering the name, each of the candidates to succeed Kenny Matassa to the presidency, distanced (or tried to) himself from the lame duck occupying the parish executive until January.  The batting order was the same for opening/closing statements and a series of questions posed by the moderator and any citizen who cared to ask.

Rick Webre during Hurricane Barry

Rick Webre, recently retired from 13 years in the parish’s employ as Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (OHSEP), led off…

Clint Cointment pledged to stop implementation of Master Plan in May. He alone could affirm that he’s participated in Council deliberations as a private citizen.

followed by Clint Cointment, who fell 117 votes shy of being the president instead of Matassa…

Ricky Diggs’ God-based message sounded the most like Matassa

then came Ricky Diggs, who finished a distant fourth in 2015’s five-man general election…

Murphy Painter who’s “been involved in every election since 1972”

with Murphy Painter, two-time loser for Ascension Sheriff and former Director of Louisiana’s Alcohol and Tobacco Control, closing.  Assuming each candidate wanted to close strong, what was the final message they wanted to leave the 70 or so voters in attendance?

Rick Webre’s final message was about INTEGRITY, opining that he “doesn’t think the Parish President should ever do anything to deceive anyone.”  Having worked for three of Ascension’s four president’s, it would have been compelling to hear the specifics of that implication, maybe an example or ten.  “A big pile of money,” according to Webre, “won’t solve” Ascension’s myriad problems (though it probably wouldn’t hurt).

Webre, and all of Ascension (but Webre more acutely), caught a break when Hurricane Dorian stayed out of the Gulf of Mexico.  How would those optics have looked with his interim replacement offering those OHSEP updates on Channel 21?

Clint Cointment, who should comfortably retain the I’m not Kenny Matassa lane, combined issues with imaging.  Promising to accomplish “more infrastructure projects than any president before me,” he asked the gathering, “Do you know where your money is being spent?”  Drainage issues are clearly Cointment’s comfort zone, taking multiple opportunities to discuss his “comprehensive Drainage Maintenance Plan.”

“Wouldn’t you want someone with a detailed plan?” he asked, closing with…

“I won’t make any promises but I’ll give you a guarantee.  I will never embarrass you.”

Ricky Diggs is “not a politician.”  According to his close, Diggs was a teacher at Prairieville Middle School for 25 years, in the military for 29 years, and he’s currently employed by Turner Industries in the safety field.  Like Matassa four years ago, Diggs is the pro-God candidate who wants to consult scripture for government decision making.

He claimed to have had a transformative experience that replaced “the hate with love in his heart.”

Murphy Painter has “always changed the culture” in every position he has ever held.  We assume he meant for the better.  Painter went on to characterize his 40 years in government as a strength, having already claimed “you’re sadly mistaken…if you think government can be run like a business” in a mild shot at Cointment.

“We all pretty much agree with what the problems are,” Painter concluded, asserting his leadership abilities make him the best candidate.  “It’s not the money we have.  It’s the money we don’t have.”

They did “pretty much agree.”  Drainage and Traffic/Traffic and Drainage…and the ill-effects caused by decades of barely regulated subdivision development.

All four candidates (one Democrat-Diggs, and three Republicans) decried Ascension’s land development practices, blaming new subdivisions for worsening all that plagues the parish, drainage/flooding and traffic most prominently.  Ricky Diggs vowed “not a shovel of dirt turned” until its impacts are understood; Painter repeated his claim to have been the first among four to take up the theme.

Recently his social media page included the statement:

“I will impose a temporary moratorium on new residential development.”

for which Webre took Painter to task, responding:

“I understand the concerns about growth in this parish; however, the parish president does not have the authority to impose a moratorium.  This must be accomplished by an ordinance passed by the parish council with input from large and small property owners alike.  The parish staff should be trained and qualified to assist the council in this matter.”

A couple of takeaways, here.  While tame, it was clear from Webre’s campaign launch that he’s going after Painter.  Webre “can no longer support (Matassa)” or anyone Matassa endorses.  Secondly, are we to infer that Webre thinks the current parish staff is NOT “trained and qualified” to assist the council?

It’s a theme Webre explored again Thursday after one citizen inquired about application of the new Master Plan; adopted by the Planning Commission on May 29.  That plan called for a dozen “Neighborhood Hubs” with no apparent restriction on residential density, totally ignoring hundreds of public comments urging…

Webre noted that any density increases would have to come via ordinance.

It was Clint Cointment who explained that new zoning categories enacted by the Parish Council can work both ways, i.e. the legislative authority could impose stricter density requirements by rezoning to “Rural” (two lots per acre) or “Conservation” (one lot per acre).  There is also “RM-Medium Intensity” which allows three lots per acre.  Planned Urban Developments is the current avenue to density greater than RM.

“The Master Plan should reflect our citizens’ wishes, not the government which obviously wants higher density,” Cointment lambasted the “secretive nature of the proceedings.”

Cointment: “I Pledge to Repeal Master Plan”

Unlike any of his opponents, Cointment argued against the Master Plan on May 29, following it up with a campaign pledge to repeal.  He recounted his vocal opposition to another Master Plan proposal in 2009-10.  Cointment’s participation at Council meetings distinguished him from the others in response to another citizen question, “describe your participation level at past council meetings which led you to” seeking election.

Painter and Diggs confessed to having never attended a Council meeting, while Webre’s attendance was limited to delivery of reports in his former job.  Cointment has been a regular at Council meetings and, even more so at East Ascension Drainage Commission meetings which also distinguishes him from the other three, none of whom has ever opined on drainage issues before the decision-making body.

The best sound byte of the evening (in our opinion) goes to Webre who analogized development practices to a bourre’ game in which longtime residents have been anteing up to build the pot.  And now, newcomers want to be dealt into the hand.

If you don’t get the metaphor you’re probably one of the newcomers.