Astronomical raises a concern to Council member(s)

District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler

SSA Consultants’ Christel Slaughter delivered the first of two study results assessing Ascension Parish’s personnel allocation Tuesday before the Council Finance Committee in Gonzales.  The Compensation Study, an organizational analysis report is scheduled for May’s Finance meeting, resulted in seven recommendations which a unanimous committee adopted.  Firstly, Slaughter recommended Ascension “adopt current market-based” pay ranges since 116 of the parish’s 472 “incumbents” (it means employees) are paid more than the market’s maximum range.

While 38 incumbents are paid below the range these employees tend to fall on the bottom of Ascension’s pay ladder and infusing $55,000 into their yearly paychecks will bring those low level workers into the range. Ascension’s top earners are the ones making out better than the free market would dictate.

“You have allowed people to go above range for a number of reasons,” Slaughter told Finance citing 2-9% annual cost of living raises.  “Merit raises are not tied to performance evaluation…You’ve got a lot of positions, titles if you will…”

Prairieville Councilman Aaron Lawler discussed the possibility of making up the $55,000 shortage on the low end from the “astronomical raises” on the upper end of the pay spectrum.

“If we took people who were given raises, really astronomical quite honestly, and use some of that money,” he suggested.  “I know in the past year we’ve had people get increases of 32%, 16%…”

Moose Pearce’s favorite Councilman Aaron Lawler (at right)

“I’m not sure we saw any 32% raises.  If somebody was promoted into a new position their pay might change,” countered Christel Slaughter.

She could have been referring to former Executive Assistant to the last parish president who is now a General Manager, Thomas “Moose” Pearce whose salary jumped form approximately $80,000 to $101,900 within weeks of President Kenny Matassa assuming office.

Don Hysell [at left} counting votes with Matassa and Moose

Another General Manager position was created for Don Hysell who received a similar increase.  Questions with regard to their duties have been ignored by Matassa for a year now.  He also hired nine project managers when his predecessor had one.

“Sometimes you make a position and put somebody in it and, all of a sudden, a massive raise,” Lawler asserted.  “We have a tight budget.  The parish is not flush with cash.  When we see these people getting astronomical raises, that’s a concern.”

Slaughter “would call that a promotion.”

“We didn’t look at whether people were qualified to be in the position they are in,” she explained though such pedestrian matters could be included in next month’s report.

She recommended freezing salaries at the top end until the market catches up because it is “not good policy to cut pay.”  A consolidation of similar jobs with different titles was recommended by Slaughter who added the current personnel manual “is good but is not followed.”

None other than west bank Councilman Oliver Joseph seemed to agree with his Prairieville counterpart.

“I would want to work for Ascension Parish,” Joseph concluded after hearing Slaughter out.  “A 30% increase in salary, (lay persons) do not know all the story behind everything.  Some of them get paid more than what I think they should get paid; that’s me personally.”

Thomas “Moose” Pearce (left) with District 1 Councilman Oliver Joseph (file photo)

And a hefty salary translates into healthy retirement packages for all those positions created by the Matassa administration.

Jeff Pettit

“What does the Chief of Staff do?  What do nine project managers do?  How does the head of Mosquito Control make more money than our Emergency Preparedness Director,” Jeff Pettit, the only public speaker fired off a series of questions.  “I’m not talking about the rank and file employees but the big boys whose inflated salaries will yield inflated retirement benefits that our kids and grand-kids will have to pay off, over $3 billion.”

“No wonder there’s no money for roads, or drainage, or recreation,” he concluded.

At present those accrued retirement benefits are “virtually fully funded (98.4%)”…and “a significant percentage of your workforce is already eligible for retirement” according to SSA’s findings.

“(Ascension’s retirement) is a marvelous benefit to your employees,” raved Christel Slaughter who also noted the parish’s health plan and other benefits have served to attract and retain employees.

“Ascension Parish has the 3rd largest retirement system in the State of Louisiana.”

180 different job titles, many with similar duties renders day to day operations more complex.

Now that SSA’s report is in the Council is supposed to consider ratifying five Matassa appointments as required by Ascension’s Home Rule Charter and corresponding ordinances.  Ratification of CAO Ken Dawson, DPW Director Bill Roux, Finance Director/Treasurer Gwen LeBlanc, Planning Director Jerome Fournier, and Personnel Director Cheryl Kinchen were deferred from a late 2016 Council meeting to await SSA’s findings.

Matassa had delayed presenting the appointments to the governing authority for ten months.  When/if the Council finally takes up ratification it will have one less appointee to approve.

“Cheryl Kinchen has taken a new opportunity in parish government working with Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson working on project management,” according to a statement by Public Information Officer Martin McConnell.

Word was that Kinchen was not going to be ratified when it was deferred from the November 3, 2016 agenda.  Does that make 10 project managers?  Kinchen’s salary during former President Tommy Martinez’s last term was $81,494.  According to records produced to Pelican Post last month it was $99,216.

McConnell did not address the affect of Kinchen’s new position on her salary.