As your parish president it is not my custom to address politically-motivated public attacks by other elected officials since I believe the practice to be a disservice to the people who elected us all. But these are not normal times as certain members of the Council have demonstrated beyond any doubt that damaging my administration is more important than working together for the benefit of Ascension Parish. And, frankly, I have had enough.
While it is normal, and beneficial, for elected officials to have sincere differences of opinion, that has nothing to do with Councilman Aaron Lawler’s pointless attacks. Neither does it justify those launched by Councilman Corey Orgeron. Frequent social media rants, or outreach to actual media all too eager to pounce on any controversy, real or fake, they never miss an opportunity.
Mr. Lawler’s most recent offering, shared to a local media outlet’s page, was the last straw. He criticized me for refusing to answer his questions, requesting “an honest assessment” of some matter or another. Here goes.
The issues between us go back to 2019 during the campaign for October elections. Lawler established a pattern of dishonesty; untruths about me were a staple of his campaign. Most egregious was his practice of telling voters that I supported him for reelection (recorded by one citizen and published for all to hear).
I did not back any candidate for Parish Council in 2019, focusing exclusively on my own race. Mr. Lawler’s claim to the contrary was an outright lie. He is perfectly willing to say anything that advances his personal agenda.
Beginning in early 2020 mutual friends informed me that Lawler “is dedicating his term to destroying me personally and politically.” I didn’t give it much credence; maybe he was just blowing off steam or running off at the mouth as he is prone to do.
But within weeks of being sworn in Lawler and Councilman Orgeron launched their first attack after the decision to replace former members of the administration with my own people (just like every administration has done before and will do ever after). It was the first of many.
As to personnel decisions, I campaigned on a “one in, one out” policy designed to stop the ever-increasing number of parish employees. My administration inherited an inefficient workforce and a bloated payroll. Due, overwhelmingly, to natural attrition the Employee Roster has been pared by over 10% with a corresponding salary savings in the millions of dollars.
One would think, given that his campaign platform called for “an ordinance to limit the total number of Parish employees,” that Mr. Lawler might offer words of support for a common goal achieved. Decorum and civility do not appear in his playbook.
Next came a petulant, childish social media fiasco when Councilman Orgeron, as chairman of the Council Utilities Committee, published a notice that I would present an update on the status of east bank sewer treatment. Mr. Orgeron did not bother to contact me, nor any member of the administration before doing so. And he did it while intense negotiations with National Water Infrastructure were ongoing. Councilman Lawler, alone among the membership, shared the agenda on his Facebook page even before it was released to the public.
What their endgame was is anyone’s guess. I suppose it was intended to force me into giving a presentation even though it stood to compromise the parish’s negotiating position. I declined, informing the public of my decision via Ascension Parish’s social media page.
Lawler’s reaction…leading the council charge to block me from posting information on the page. That is what spurred me to create a new Parish President’s page, ultimately merging with my campaign’s social media page.
In the interim a post recognizing two local physicians who led Ascension through the early days of COVID-19 was made on the campaign’s page. You might think that such a positive post would be applauded by everyone. Wrong. Lawler chastised me for the post claiming I violated some ethics policy by posting information on my campaign page while the two were being merged.
These juvenile attacks continued even after several of his council colleagues asked him to stop.
On April 24 Ascension voters approved the sale of sewer infrastructure assets and a franchise agreement with NWI. That ballot initiative was the product of lengthy and, sometimes, difficult negotiations by my administration even as Lawler and Orgeron attempted to diminish our negotiating leverage. Mr. Orgeron, while chairing the Utilities Committee, might as well have been in NWI’s employ.
It was clear that Lawler favored the 2019 version of the agreement which, in my opinion, supremely disadvantaged Ascension Parish. Maybe that accounts for his resentment toward me and my administration.
Another prime example is Lawler’s push to approve a $3,446,100 contract for HNTB Engineers to assist the parish in a Floodplain Management Plan (not a Drainage Master Plan as he insists on calling it). It was my belief that many of the project tasks could be accomplished in-house, thus saving our taxpayers significant dollars. In the end the contract approved by East Ascension Drainage Commission was $2,670,850 (I believe we could have saved $400,000 more if my administration could have gotten any council/EA Drainage support).
The resulting savings (or maybe it was that he did not get the credit) infuriated the District 7 Councilman. Who could forget the image of a shoeless Aaron Lawler ranting for WBRZ’s camera? “The parish president thinks driving around in his truck, he is able to see all the problems and he can plan for this.”
(Addressing another of his criticisms), concrete lining of ditches reduces maintenance, keeping the depth and integrity of the ditch channel. The City of Gonzales employs the technique with great success.
These attacks are the reason I do not take questions during the Parish President’s Report at Council meetings. Nothing positive can come from the process which Aaron Lawler and Corey Orgeron use to launch another assault. Should any council member seek information, place an item on the council/committee agenda and the information will be provided.
I have chosen to ignore their constant badgering to focus on my job. I will never punish their constituents for their unprofessionalism because you are my constituents too. My administration will continue to address your issues as best we can.
Finally, as to the most recent social media criticisms:
- Cancelation of the contract with APSO, inmate labor for trash pickup will be explained publicly in the coming weeks.
- Deploying the pumps on Alligator Bayou Road was a decision made due to the number of homes so close to flooding. Every bit of help that could be provided, was provided.
When asked what is our biggest problem in Ascension Parish, many are shocked when I don’t answer with drainage, traffic or lack of recreation space. In fact, our number 1 problem is trust, more accurately the lack of trust in government. We see this nationwide, but I know here in Ascension Parish when we work together we can earn our Residents trust. We need to act less like adolescents and more like adults, we need to do better presenting ourselves as the professionals you have elected, not typical politicians playing games.
My promise to you is to always work as hard as possible to gain your trust, respect and help run this Parish to become a leader in the state. I truly believe we live in a very special place, I’m excited for everything we can accomplish and be Ascension Proud.
As always stay informed,