Ascension to implement new GPS system, no employee disciplinary action until policy in place

The Council Finance Committee recently approved implementation of a new “Productivity Tracking” GPS for Ascension Parish, changing providers from My Government Online to Acadian Total Security’s better product.  That opinion was offered by Professional Project Manager Jade Robin, three months on the job, who explained a plethora of additional benefits from the new provider with a reduction in price (from $30 to $25 per device, per month).  But, this being Ascension Parish, simple implementation of the new system is not so simple.

“I would certainly ask that no GPS be turned on in a car until we have some policies and procedures in place that protect our employees from harassment; what should be an efficiency tool that turns into a battering ram,” urged Council Chairwoman Teri Casso.  “It should not be used as a hammer.  It should not be used to harm…(because) somebody has a vendetta on another employee.”

According to Casso it has happened all too frequently during her nine-year council tenure.

Initially she favored delaying implementation of the new system until President Clint Cointment’s administration produced “policies and procedures” alerting every employee driving a parish vehicle to disciplinary ramifications for violations.  Cointment favored activating the new GPS in order to familiarize with system capability, necessary when drafting procedures, and to work out any bugs.

The parish president proposed that no disciplinary action would be taken against any employee until those policies and procedures are approved by the council.  Satisfactory to Chairwoman Casso and her colleagues, the administration was given 90 days to deliver the product.  In actuality, the Council approved “GPS Policy for Ascension Parish vehicles and equipment” as part of the Consent Agenda during its March 21, 2019 Regular Meeting.

It was done with so little fanfare that even close observers (like your writer) were unaware that it had been done.  The four-page Ascension Parish GPS Vehicle Tracking Policy exempts “the Parish President, Chief Administrative Officer, Directors, and Assistant Directors” from “having GPS on their vehicles.”  While not very explicit about causes of disciplinary action, the document does include Paragraph XIEnforcement:

“This policy and the GPS system are not intended to be punitive or used to monitor individual employees, although unsafe and unauthorized vehicle usage may lead to disciplinary action.

The parish’s Safety Manual will further address how violations will be enforced.  However, any violation with the provisions of the policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”

The council may want to repeal the current policy to avoid confusion.

Jade Robin (center screen) at February Finance Committee meeting.

Project Manager Jade Robin stressed that implementation of the system is a means to increase productivity and efficiency, seemingly unconcerned about disciplinary matters.  Among the benefits highlighted…

“The goal is to measure productivity using that real-time tracking and route recording,” Robin explained, citing a pilot program wherein Acadian Total Security provided three devices at no charge.  “One of the most costly expenses in government is fuel and we’ll be able to identify under/over utilization and theft; saving money while increasing production using data-driven decisions.”

Ease of tracking will mowers and mosquito sprayers will immediately identify areas covered for the purpose of scheduling, a simple example of the tool’s effectiveness.  Real-time alerts (collision  detection and seat belt usage) will enhance safety.  There is also a preventative maintenance component since the system can keep track of service/maintenance records.

With so many obvious benefits it seems inexplicable that Ascension Parish Government has failed to implement these 20th Century (sarcasm) technological advances.  GPS is not the only advancement delayed by Ascension Parish politics even while taxpayers have been paying for it for more than five years.

On January 7, 2016 the Council renewed a $49,356 contract with Mobile Monitoring for “GPS on parish vehicles.”  As it happened, it was the first council meeting of former president Kenny Matassa’s tenure and the contractual renewal was made without policy/procedure in place to protect employees.  We could find no discussion of the topic in prior meeting minutes going back to the council’s inception after adoption of Home Rule in the mid-1990s.

It was then Finance Committee Chairwoman Teri Casso who moved to “have Human Resources present policy and procedure for the GPS system” during the October 20, 2016 council meeting.  HR never appear before the council to submit a proposal.  It was DPW Director Bill Roux, on February 23, 2017 who promised a policy in the future, confirming that the parish was paying for 180 GPS devices, 105 of which had actually been activated.

“55 devices were removed,” said Roux during that 2017 council meeting…”because a lot of these were supervisors and up, managers and administrative staff.”

The Matassa regime had yet to decide “who’ll be subject to monitoring” as Roux claimed multiple policy drafts had been completed.  Councilwoman Casso expressed a wish “that everybody’s vehicle (be monitored) across the board.”  Councilman Aaron Lawler was “glad we’re moving forward.”

The July 20, 2017 Council Meeting Consent Agenda included another contract, $49,435 per year with Acadian Total Security for 170 devices.  But still no policy.

Newly-hired, soon to be fired, Human Resources Director Taleta Wesley got in on the act during the October 19, 2017 when she presented a draft AP Employee GPS Policy to the council.  Wesley’s hiring had been ratified earlier at the same meeting.  So, who could deny her a deferment to learn the schtick?

Wesley came before the Council Transportation Committee on November 6, 2017 to explain just who would be subject, or not, to GPS monitoring.  “Executive Leaders and Division Directors” would be exempt, whoever they were, but still held accountable for violating state traffic laws, i.e. if these individuals received a traffic ticket while operating a parish-owned vehicle.

“Really, (the exemption) is for the ratified members of the parish and the department heads,” Wesley would say.  “Top of the (organizational) chart.”

The organizational chart in question was never enacted, with Matassa exercising an unnecessary veto for good measure in early 2018.  The rest of 2018 elapsed without the council taking the matter up again.  Then, out of the blue, Ascension Parish GPS Vehicle Tracking Policy was adopted as part of the March 21, 2019 Council agenda…

Four pages long, there is no indication in the official minutes from whence it came.  Who drafted it?  Did a council committee vet the policy prior to inclusion on a Consent Agenda?

Five current members were seated on the council in 2019.