Fueling speculation that Ascension’s Parish Council was pulling a fast one, Tuesday’s Utilities Committee agenda included Item H: Approval of proposed CEA dated September 3, 2020. In fact, the parish is still waiting on Ascension Sewer/National Water Infrastructure’s (NWI) response to the parish’s counterproposal with no date set for consideration. Promised public participation in the process has yet to occur.
According to the parish’s retained counsel, David Fleshman of Breazeale Sachse Wilson law firm, Ascension Parish Government (APG) responded to the NWI’s September 3 proposal on September 25. The expectation was that NWI would forward comments to APG demands by October 2.
“We are waiting on NWI’s response,” Fleshman informed the committee; after which “we will get in the same room and negotiate.”
The item’s inclusion on the agenda was another pathetic attempt by Utilities Chairman Corey Orgeron to retain a scintilla of relevance after being excluded from negotiations with/against NWI.
“Failure is not an option in this matter,” declared Orgeron, adopting the worst negotiating stance imaginable.
Worse yet, Orgeron is consorting with Parish Attorney O’Neil Parenton who was scheduled to present Item G on Tuesday’s agenda: Discussion of the use of tax dollars from the general fund to subsidize ACUD#2 sewer customers and options to cure going forward. The Parish Attorney is negotiating against the parish, urging approval of the NWI proposal to avoid illegality.
Parenton, as it turned out, had an after hours conflict and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
He would have offered legal analyses intended to push the Utilities Committee, and the full council, into NWI’s waiting embrace…on NWI’s terms. Parenton has adopted the position that longstanding subsidization of 2,000 parish sewer customers violates the State Constitution. In 2019 those subsidies reached $4.2 million.
Doing a deal, any deal, with NWI would transfer those customers to NWI and off the parish’s books.
We are left to wonder why Parenton is taking the position now. Ascension Parish has been subsidizing sewer treatment for quite some time, possibly decades. Parenton has been the Parish Attorney for several years.
Was Parenton asleep at the switch for a decade or did he intentionally withhold relevant legal analysis from three administrations? What are the penalties faced by Ascension Parish for a decade’s worth of Constitutional violations? Did Parenton inform past councils/administrations who opted to ignore the warning?
The people of Ascension Parish deserve answers.