Anonymous letter accuses Cointment of criminal posting to social media

Ascension President Clint Cointment

An anonymous letter addressed to numerous media outlets, Ascension’s Sheriff and District Attorney, and the Parish Council accused President Clint Cointment of “using taxpayer money and parish employees to create videos for his political website, Clint Cointment-the Clear Choice.”  Posted from Baton Rouge, like another anonymous letter received by the former District 4 councilman recently, Cointment was “eager to address the accusation” and answer a series of questions posed in the correspondence.

“The video was not produced for my campaign page.  It was created for the people of Ascension Parish and would have premiered on the Parish of Ascension’s page but for the Council’s decision to suspend all social media activity on parish sites,” he assured.  “You may have noticed that council and committee meetings have not been broadcast on YouTube.”

That is, according to the parish president, due to a council resolution adopted on May 21.  (The resolution is scheduled for consideration on Thursday’s Council agenda).

“It was a hard fought campaign that ended with my election to the parish presidency last October.  As president I will communicate with the people of Ascension using all the means at my disposal,” Cointment said.  “I encourage every elected official to do the same.”

Cointment urged every council member, private citizen and business owner to share the video in question; “a message of perseverance and hope that we’re turning a corner on the COVID-19 crisis while recognizing our hardworking employees.” Accompanying the video on Cointment’s page is the message:

“I want to especially single out and recognize the incredible sacrifices of our small businesses, the Mom & Pop establishments that are the backbone of our economy and our quality of life.”

Someone, somewhere sees a self-serving motive.  Received on May 30…

the envelope pictured above contained the anonymous letter which included a single paragraph…

“Why is the Ascension Parish President using taxpayer money and parish employees to create videos for his political website, Clint Cointment-the Clear Choice?  On May 27 at 11:19 he posted a video apparently made by parish employees directly to his facebook page.  The video even had the Ascension 21 tag on it, but it was not aired on the channel.  My last councilman would have done something about this, but my new one is part of the gang, please help?”

It was followed by nine questions, all of which were posed to President Cointment during a Monday afternoon interview.  The questions, and Cointment’s responses, are reproduced below.

  1. Who filmed the video?  Cointment:  The Communications Department per request by the parish president.
  2. Whose camera was used?  Cointment: Video equipment used by the Communications Department on a daily basis.
  3. Who edited the video?  Cointment:  Personnel in the Communications Department.
  4. Who authorized the video?  Cointment:  Personnel in the Communications Department per request by the parish president.
  5. Will someone help the people of ascension and bring this to light?  Cointment:  Transparency is a lynchpin of my administration and I will answer any legitimate question anyone cares to ask.
  6. For whose benefit was the video?  Cointment:  The video was shot as an uplifting message for the wonderful citizens of our great parish.
  7. Under which law is this permissible?  Cointment:  While I am no legal scholar, it is my understanding that no law is necessary to allow any citizen, even a parish president, to engage in lawful conduct.
  8. Can he be prosecuted for this?  Cointment:  Though I am unaware of any law criminalizing the sharing of a parish-produced video, I’d defer to an attorney.
  9. Can the employees that will testify against him be protected?  Cointment:  I encourage every employee to speak the truth in all matters.

District Attorney Ricky Babin was contacted, as was Sheriff Bobby Webre’s office, for this piece.  Both acknowledged receipt of the correspondence, neither divulged any intention to pursue the matter further.

“It’s about communicating with our constituents, the people of Ascension who elected us to serve,” Cointment said.  “It is regrettable that certain council members have taken such a hardline stance with regard to the parish’s social media page.  That’s why communication between the administration and council is so important, something Chairwoman Teri Casso has wisely stressed in order to move past these petty differences, and I commend her for it.”

But Casso does not seem to be making much headway herding the cats, er, council members.  A turf war over usage of the parish’s Facebook page?  How petulant can a council member be?

District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler

On May 19, two days before the council’s Social Media Resolution was adopted, Councilman Aaron Lawler sent an email to his colleagues and the administration:

“Regarding the Parish of Ascension post today indicating the Parish Presidents reluctance to address his sewer plan at the Utilities Committee meeting, I respectfully request that the post be removed.  That Facebook page represents the entire Parish of Ascension.  It represents the administration, the Council and the departments.  The post would have better been placed under the personal page of the Parish President or his campaign page.  The Parish of Ascension Facebook page should be used for information dissemination.  If the Parish President would like to create his own page to disseminate his opinions and positions, I encourage him to do so, but I would prefer that the Parish of Ascension Page remain a neutral page.

That being said, and I hope my request to remove the post from the page is granted in short order, I have a few questions regarding the Parish of Ascension Page.

Who is the Administrator of the page?  Who is able to post on the page?  Are there written guidelines for posting?  Who made the post at issue today?

Lawler, no novice to social media, has utilized his campaign page to communicate with constituents.

BIG. Utilities meeting tomorrow night. IN PERSON. The biggest items in the agenda are the Cointment Administrations Sewer plan and Inspection plan for Modads and septic tanks.

Lawler attached what appears to be a proposed agenda (note date, March 10) which had yet to be finalized:

“The agenda was the work product of our staff which Councilman Lawler freely shared on his campaign page.  No problem,” according to President Cointment who reiterated his “full support of any council member keeping constituents informed.”

Cointment cited President Donald Trump’s May 28 Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship as additional authority, highlighting verbiage in Section 1:

“Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy.  Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.

In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet.  This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology.  Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms.  As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.”