Last week Ascension’s Parish Council deferred an item to place a three-term limit on its membership and the Office of Parish President before voters. Councilwoman Teri Casso, reiterating her intention not to seek a fourth term next year, successfully sought the deferral “for the administration to initiate workshops” and afford colleagues an opportunity “to express concerns.” President Clint Cointment, worried about the loss of “institutional knowledge,” proposed adding a fourth term to any limit presented for voter approval.
NOTE: Since any term limit requires amendment of Ascension Home Rule Charter it can only be accomplished at the ballot box.
A single member of the council, Joel Robert has pushed the term limit issue from his chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. Early in 2022, having somehow retained the chair when Councilman John Cagnolatti made committee assignments, Robert could not to muster a quorum for his committee. Oblivious to his colleagues’ willingness to shirk the duties incumbent on committee membership, Robert stayed the course…and here they are.
On Thursday President Cointment weighed in publicly for the first time, justifying his opinion on the fact that the Office of Parish President was included in the term limit debate. Proposing a compromise, four terms instead of three, Ascension’s Chief Executive stressed the importance that “some of that institutional knowledge” be preserved.
“We’re all term-limited, every four years,” he relied upon the will of voters to oust an incumbent.
A point well-taken given the fact that a majority of the council incumbents did not win reelection in 2019. The parish presidency has not seen an incumbent win reelection since 2011.
“Even though we expect some turnover, at least we have some senior representatives on this council to allow for that knowledge to be carried on from each election cycle,” Cointment explained, recognizing the potential “double-edged sword” embodied by “career politicians.”
Given the acrimonious relations between Cointment and the council’s “senior representatives” since Inauguration Day (January 6, 2020), it was a headscratcher; and anathema for candidate Cointment in two reform campaigns (2015’s narrow defeat and 2019’s easy victory).
Cointment spent much of 2021 attempting to fend off a power grab to wrest control of East Ascension Drainage and its General Fund balance. All was forgiven, if not forgotten, when the sides reached a deal…
spurred by the poster boy for “career politicians” in Ascension Parish.
2021 marked the second year of Dempsey Lambert’s fifth District 5 council term, his seventh year chairing EA Drainage. 18 years of “institutional knowledge” applied to a singular purpose, Lambert, apparently unilaterally, informed Cointment that the jig was up…
on September 23, 2021. Lambert sent the “official written notice of termination of the Intergovernmental Agreement between East Ascension Gravity Drainage District and Ascension Parish Council whereby the office of the Parish President was granted the exclusive right to administer the maintenance of, operation of, repair of, and provision of drainage for the Parish of Ascension.”
Supposedly, none of his colleagues possessed foreknowledge of Lambert’s letter.
Walking his fellow anti-Cointment plotters into another buzz saw, Lambert’s “institutional knowledge” notwithstanding, he was voted out as EA Drainage’s chair in January 2022. Another slap in Lambert’s face, new Council Chairman John Cagnolatti ignored the erstwhile EA Drainage chair’s pleas for the top spot over the Transportation Committee in favor of chief coup plotter, Councilman Aaron Lawler. Inexplicably, Lawler was also voted to EA Drainage’s vice chairmanship under first-term member Chase Melancon who ascended to EA Drainage’s chairmanship seven months ago.
Councilman Melancon, no fan of term limits, did suggest the appropriateness of leaving the decision to voters, favoring the October 14, 2023 election when the council and parish president will be on the ballot too. Discounting the arguments against “off-cycle” elections generally, “on a Home Rule Charter change I would prefer it be on one of our major election cycles.” He sought a legal opinion to ascertain whether term limits, if approved by voters on that day, could take effect in January 2024.
Beside the point according to the promulgator, Councilman Robert who attempted to push the issue through. He offered a motion to cap any individual council service at four terms total, no more than three served consecutively. While Robert is alone in publicly supporting term limits, any term limits, none of his colleagues have opposed leaving it up to Ascension’s electorate, at least not publicly.
Ultimately, eight of the 11-member council must sign off on the ballot measure. Article 9-01 of the Charter establishes that, “An amendment to or the repeal of this charter may be proposed by at least two-thirds of the members of the governing authority or by a petition.”
- No individual has been elected to Ascension’s parish presidency more than twice in-a-row.
- Tommy Martinez was elected four times overall (1993 and 1995, 2007 and 2011. Martinez bids were unsuccessful in 1999 and 2003).
- In the council’s 28-year history only two members (Dempsey Lambert and Todd Lambert) have served more than three terms.
- If a three-term limit were in place three current council members (Travis Turner, Dempsey Lambert, and Teri Casso) would not be eligible for the reelection in 2023.
- Only Lambert would be ineligible under a four-term limit.