On March 21 Councilman Todd Lambert decried “a deal cut back in the day” whereby nearly $3 million would be allocated for a new gym at Lamar Dixon Expo Center (Council Travis Turner’s pet project) “if the soccer fields (Councilman Aaron Lawler’s ideal) get built.” The merits of either project aside, Lambert had an undeniable point that local parish parks could greatly benefit from such a cash infusion. Behind the scenes deals are nothing new with the current administration and, in fact, another one got done the very same evening, with Lawler right in the middle of it.
On the agenda was Executive Session which considered “Parish of Ascension v Berkley Insurance Company, written demand.” Reconvening from that closed-door session it was Lawler who moved:
“I’d like to make a motion to authorize our legal counsel to take all legal actions necessary to pursue any and all claims, um, arising out of, uh, an insurance (inaudible stammer) about any insurance claims related to the discussion in the executive committee,” Lawler wended his way through an inartfully crafted motion.
Adopted unanimously, $100,000 in taxpayer dollars were added to a contract with Roedel Parsons law firm to handle Matassa’s suit for reimbursement of criminal legal fees incurred to fend off a 2017 felony bribery indictment. On June 18 Matassa (Ascension Parish Government would be added as party-plaintiff in order that taxpayers could foot the legal bill) sued Berkley Insurance, with Harry Robert Insurance Agency added as party-defendant for good measure.
Another $85,000 would be added to the contract by a near unanimous (Doc Satterlee was the lone dissenter) council on July 9.
Lawler, much of whose time is spent trying to convince constituents to disbelieve what they saw him do or say, insists that he “has never supported paying the legal fees of the Parish President and he never will.” How much money is he willing to spend on the Parish President’s new lawyers? If Matassa’s case goes all the way to trial, those lawyers could rack up billable hours in excess of Matassa’s criminal fees.
Lawler took the Council lead. On January 26 he emailed Chairwoman Teri Casso and Vice-Chairman Benny Johnson. The subject: “Kenny’s legal fees.”
Among the itemized questions he posed; (2) Was our agent notified to place the public official liability carrier on notice? Who placed the agent on notice? How and when was the agent put on notice? How and when did the agent put the carrier on notice? (5) If we have received a letter of declination, have we notified the agent’s errors and omissions carrier of a potential claim?
Lawler, prior to his email, had already lobbied for the firing of the parish’s insurance agent, Harry Robert Insurance Agency (Robert). It appears he engineered the addition of Robert as party-defendant in Matassa’s “Breach of Contract” petition against the insurance carrier, Berkley Insurance. It’s a sub-plot to this sordid drama, more behind-the-scenes machinations to obtain Lawler’s desired result.
TPA stands for Third-party Administrator, the insurance agent in laymen’s terms. 18 days after he got the ball rolling on “Kenny’s legal fees” via an email referencing the insurance agent’s own “errors and omissions” coverage, Lawler texts his true feelings about that insurance agent? An insurance defense lawyer himself, Lawler possesses the requisite knowledge to build a case targeting Robert as a party-defendant in Matassa’s reimbursement suit.
The claims against Robert center on the assertion that, as agent, there was a duty to inform Matassa of potential coverage to pay those criminal legal fees. To borrow a phrase from Lawler, it is a “tenuous argument.”
Robert is not the first parish vendor, or Matassa hire, targeted by Aaron Lawler, never in an Open Meeting of course. When the appointment of BJ Romano as Recreation Director was announced, Lawler informed this writer of his plan to strong-arm the parish president into getting rid of Romano. That power play went nowhere and Lawler resumed his habit of platitudinous slobbering of praise on employees, seeming to play nice with the Recreation Director.
It lasted until Lawler’s post-Recreation Committee meeting meltdown in August, caught on video by The Advocate’s David Mitchell, when he tore into Romano. Lawler’s explanation…
There is little to be gained playing ball with Matassa whose ignominious term in office has another two months. So, now Lawler is telling voters he has the endorsement of Matassa’s successor, an out-and-out lie.
He has long sought to remove bond counsel, Malcolm Dugas, to make room for Harry J. “Skip” Phillips, a Managing Partner at the mega-firm, Taylor-Porter. Dugas, given Lawler’s two most recent campaign finance reports…
is probably safe from Lawler’s machinations…for now, anyway.
It was Skip Phillips tabbed by Lawler to serve as expert to the ill-conceived Home Rule Charter Revision Committee, the grand deception concocted to push A Better Ascension’s attempted abolition of the parish presidency (speaking of behind-the-scenes maneuvering).
Lawler and Councilman Bill Dawson engaged ABA’s point-man, John Scanlan before the sham non-profit was even incorporated. All three were supporters of failed 2015 candidate for parish president, Chris Loar, and ABA was an end run to usurp executive authority by a faction with minimal chance of electoral success. The whole process ignored procedural requirements to amend the existing Home Rule Charter by an organization calling itself a non-profit so its money men would not be disclosed.
ABA’s reliance on the Chamber of Commerce to select the new un-elected executive was off-putting to opponents already leery of “corporate takeover of local government.” The Chamber has never reflected popular will in Ascension Parish, a fact evidenced by the subterfuge that was Center for Planning Excellence’s (CPEX) drafting of a new Master Land Use Plan. Three rounds of “Open Houses” were conducted to elicit public opinion overwhelmingly against more residential development without vital infrastructure in place.
CPEX ignored those citizens in favor of a shadowy, heavily-Chamber laden Stakeholders Committee that met six times, never publicly and without bothering to memorialize those meetings in any way. On May 29 the Planning Commission adopted CPEX’s draft which recommends a tripling of allowable residential density, diametrically opposed to the will of all those citizens, but favored by the District 7 incumbent.
Lawler has certainly done his part to render District 7 more densely populated. In the sweetheart of back room deals he engineered approval of Oak Grove Townhouses.
He sat on study to reform, and strengthen, Traffic Impact Studies required of every subdivision for ten months, making it possible for Jamestown Crossing’ approval.
That’s another 260 or so homes on Hwy 42 in Prairieville; but who’s counting?
Facing a runoff election on November 16; will the real Aaron Lawler please stand up?