2019’s worst expenditures

No. 1:  Council votes to pay Matassa’s $231,829 legal bill

Who didn’t see this coming?  Even those 15,080 citizens who cast their bal(lot) for/with Kenny Matassa to succeed Tommy Martinez as Ascension’s fourth different parish president on November 21, 2015 cannot be surprised.  The vote on December 5 (supposed to be the last council meeting of 2019 before they realized the need to ramrod a sewer deal through) saw seven members opt to pay off Kenny Matassa’s $231,829 legal bill incurred to fend off a 2017 bribery indictment.

Three of those council members will be re-seated on January 6.  The “yes” votes include…

  • Re-elected: Travis Turner, Dempsey Lambert, and John Cagnolatti
  • Beaten at the polls:  Oliver Joseph, Todd Lambert, and Benny Johnson
  • Chose not to run:  Randy Clouatre

Lawler admits pushing for lawsuit, anticipated fix being in with Matassa criminal fee payoff

No. 1(a): Mounting bill to recoup payment of Matassa’s legal bill

See embedded link above for Councilman Aaron Lawler’s explanation.  We disagree that insurance coverage exists since the council “chose” to pay the legal bills. Any further expenditure is, in our opinion, throwing good money after bad.

Hurricane Barry was predicted to bring enormous amounts of rain, so Kenny skipped out after declaring an emergency

No. 2:  Whatever taxpayers paid for Kenny’s Vegas trip

Not that Matassa’s absence would have been noticed, even had Barry’s rains visited Ascension Parish in July, but hopping a plane for Vegas after declaring an emergency is just poor form.  It did give us this classic Matassa explanation:

“All weather reports from OEP weren’t as bad as the news media reported,” said President Matassa. “The only thing I could have done if I was there was fill sand bags, which I couldn’t do because of my back problems! I thank God and all the people of Ascension for their prayers. Truly, God has spared us this time!”

So absurdly comical that it’s almost worth the expenditure…almost.   The best part being Kenny’s inclusion of the exclamation point.

No. 3:  $3,000,000 for unnecessary gym at LDEC

We’d have had less of a problem with this expenditure if not for the City of Gonzales building a gym five minutes (depending on traffic) and about a mile (as the crow flies) away; for roughly the same price.  Council whining about the state of Ascension’s 18, or is it 20, localized parks, explained away because there are no dollars dedicated to recreation, appears ridiculous after this vote was taken.  Committing approximately $400,000 annually for ten years toward repayment of the loan for more gym space at Lamar Dixon Expo Center makes little sense.

Matassa adds 140 employees, $5.3 Million to Ascension’s payroll (and counting)

No. 4:  More payroll padding and pay raises.

12 of Matassa’s top employees are paid more than Ascension’s pay scale, adopted by council ordinance, allows.  Most out of line with that LAW are:

  • Executive Assistant to the Parish President Thomas “Moose” Pearce whose $107,077 salary exceeds the maximum by $16,303;
  • Assistant Director of Public Works Mike Enlow’s salary ($96,935) tops the maximum allowed by $14,628;
  • Professional Manager, Projects Cheryl Kinchen’s ($103,216) is $12,442 over the limit.

In the last months of Matassa’s term he was still ponying up raises.  Such generosity at taxpayer expense is not sustainable.  It is left to Matassa’s successor to clean up an awful mess.

No. 5: $$$$$$ for Brazeale Sachse/Ernst & Young to pitch Ascension Sewer

On December 19, a day before the Special Meeting of the Council was supposed to vote up/down on the Ascension Sewer LLC Construction, Operation and Cooperative Endeavor Agreement, another $100,000 was appropriated to pay these experts.  Assuming the contract on December 20’s agenda is the final draft, what else was left to analyze?  We refrain from critiquing the work product other than to explain that lawyers (and financial advisers?) attempt to provide the result desired by the client.

As of November 21 Ascension Parish taxpayers were on the hook for $575,000 to Breazeale Sachse & Wilson.  The law firm is supposed to be advising the council in the negotiation of the mega-million dollar “Construction and Operating” agreement intended to bring regional wastewater treatment to the east bank.  $300,000 of that went to remunerate Ernst & Young, the firm providing financial advice.  This is getting a little pricey.

William Daniel (left) with his boss, President Matassa.

No. 6:  William Daniel’s ever-increasing salary

William Daniel was hired as the parish’s inaugural Infrastructure Division Director, a position created just for him in September of 2017.  His starting salary was $134,992.  Since then multiple raises have him at $144,671.90 which would be okay if Daniel was not a shill for Bernhard Capital Partners and its sewer deal based on holding Ascension Parish hostage.

No. 6(a):  Daniel’s boss’ raise

According to records produced in response to a recent request…

Matassa’s illegal $27,456 raise (and other tales of pillage in parish government)

Matassa, himself just received a $27,456 raise even though it violates Ascension’s Home Rule Charter, Section 3-02 of which reads:

‘The governing authority may change the salary of the president by ordinance but not during the last year of the president’s term in office.”

Anyone surprised?

No. 7: The money pit formerly called Peoples Water

The parish recently secured $17 million in grant/loan funding to rebuild a dilapidated water system acquired for $5.9 million in late 2016.  On December 13, 2018 the Council approved an amendment to a certain contract dated August 3, 2017 whereby a certain engineering firm was awarded a fee of $150,000.  No council member ever bothered to say so out loud, or maybe they were not aware because no one bothered to ask; how much was the the amendment going to increase that contract?

Glen Shaheen of GSA, bracketed by two of his favorite council members; neither of whom will be around in a week.

According to The Advocate’s David Mitchell:

Ascension Parish awarded a $2.5 million contract amendment to GSA Consulting Engineers and its subcontractors Thursday to design and oversee construction of a major revamp of the west bank water system that serves Donaldsonville and surrounding areas.

No competitive bidding, reminiscent of a certain sewer deal dominating local headlines in recent months.

No. 8:  The CPEX Master Land Use Plan

Ignoring hundreds of citizens who insisted on “Infrastructure First” or, at least, before more subdivision development, the Planning Commission adopted a new Master Land Use Plan on May 29.  At least it only cost $450,000.

Days after the commission’s action, then candidate/now Parish President-Elect Clint Cointment vowed to repeal and replace the plan.

No.9:  HNTB’s $800,000 Master Transportation Plan

Any plan contingent upon $1.25 BILLION non-existent dollars is a waste of money, no matter the cost.  Unveiled in April, that’s just what HNTB’s plan included even after eliminating a bridge…

In January HNTB-plan included bridge over the Mississippi

spanning the Mississippi River from Geismar to Modeste which was featured in earlier versions.

Malcolm Sayes being introduced at the April 8 Utilities Committee meeting

No. 10:  Whatever was paid to the Stormwater Manager for five months

Malcolm Sayes was introduced as Ascension’s next (assuming there was one before him which we cannot verify) Stormwater Manager in April.  His introductory remarks included:

My general assessment of the state of the union in terms of waterways in the parish is, we have a lot of work to do.  I really need to talk to these contractors.  The main source of problems for the stormwater program is the construction and the destabilization of earth in the construction process.  That’s most of the problem.

Unsurprisingly, given that his duties would include regulating the development community, Sayes did not last very long.  Which is unfortunate given his laudatory experience and relatively meager salary; $64,272.

We suspect it was all a subterfuge concocted to give off the appearance that Ascension was actually doing something to hold developer feet to the fire.  Obviously, Sayes was not going to be allowed to do that, not by the current administration anyway.  In the end it was nothing more than a $30,000 (prorated Sayes’ salary) publicity stunt.


HONORABLE MENTION

The new courthouse being erected on E Worthey Rd in Gonzales, next door to the parish’s Governmental Complex, is estimated to cost $28 million (or $26 million depending on the source).  But the funds are coming from increased fees charged by the Clerk of Court so, while justice might cost more, the general public is not on the hook.

 

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