In January 2020 newly-inaugurated Parish President Clint Cointment inherited a bloated parish payroll which his predecessor had allowed to increase by $5.3 million from 2016 through the end of 2019. An employee roster hovering around 550 individuals at one point in Kenny Matassa’s tenure, every partisan political hack promising support found his way onto the dole along with out-of-work family members. 23 months into his tenure and Cointment has lopped $2.4 million off the payroll, cutting the fat along with 112 employees, still managing to attract real talent onto the team.
As of December 1 Ascension Parish Government employs 431 individuals with an aggregate payroll of $20,410,54 (compared to $22,850,000 with 543 employees toward the end of 2019). While the current administration’s “superstar” rhetoric is a bit annoying, Cointment has made some great hires at the top without having to repay any political patronage (a refreshing change from administrations past). None of Cointment’s appointments were active campaign supporters, meaning he came to the top job without all those favors due.
The first big hire, Chief Administrative Officer John Diez hopped aboard the Cointment bandwagon late in 2019 and is the right fit to manage all those fragile egos in the parish’s employ and, more particularly, the governing authority (i.e. the Parish Council). Given the open warfare that ensued almost immediately, Diez had his work cut out for him. It all came to a head when the council, sitting Ex Officio as East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1 launched a palace coup which ultimately failed, resulting in Cointment’s retention of authority, but not without some sausage being made.
NOTE: Bill Roux’s $49,999 consulting agreement (he’s a liaison between EA Drainage and the administration) notwithstanding, it does not make him an employee and it was jammed down Cointment’s throat by a group of partisan hacks on the Parish Council (you know who you are).
The final deal envisions the creation of a new department head, the position of Drainage Director to be added to the list of parish job titles with specific duties and qualifications to be hammered out with the assistance of an outside consultant, SSA Consultants. The organization chart below includes another, yet to be codified, department; Health & Community Services Division which will require another directorship with oversight of Mental Health/Substance Abuse, Health Unit, Animal/Mosquito Control.
Neither does the chart include Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparation (OHSEP) which is headed by Director Rachel Wilkinson. Wilkinson has performed admirably since taking over in 2019.
The hiring of Patrick Goldsmith as Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer was nothing short of a coup. A pro’s pro who may relegate Ricky Compton to second “smartest guy in the room,” Goldsmith is a Gonzales native who had recently retired as Director of Louisiana House of Representatives’ fiscal division; that coming after 19 years over Performance Auditing and Actuarial Service for the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office. He took over from longtime CFO/Treasurer Gwen LeBlanc, mighty big shoes to fill and he’s the guy to do it.
Goldsmith exercises direct oversight of Finance, Purchasing, Human Resources and Grants for the parish.
NOTE: The search is underway for an HR Director, a vacant position at present with Megan Babin serving in an interim capacity.
Speaking of Ricky Compton…after nearly a decade as Planning Director he was unceremoniously shown the door by Matassa within two months of the diminutive politico’s soon to be checkered tenure. A four-year sabbatical with BREC, Compton returned to Ascension as the parish’s first Director of Planning and Facility Maintenance, a position created by the governing authority in his absence.
Compton’s ouster was among the blackest marks in Ascension Parish’s recent political history. Uncommonly forthright with an acerbic wit, he could ruffle the feathers of those used to doing things a certain way in Ascension Parish. Had the former council enacted Compton’s many proposed changes to the Unified Land Development Code the need for a subdivision moratorium could have been avoided.
Compton’s current job includes oversight of the Planning Department, Recreation, Building/Inspections, and Buildings and Grounds Maintenance.
His successor over Planning and Development, Jerome Fournier was retained by Cointment after his initial hire in June of 2016, giving the lie to anti-Cointment campaign rhetoric that wholesale changes would be forthcoming as some sort of political powerplay. Several of his predecessor’s appointments were retained by the current administration in addition to Fournier (each subject to ratification by the Council as is each position noted above).
- Ron Savoy, who worked his way up the ladder over decades is the Director of Public Works
- Kyle Rogers-General Manager of Lamar Dixon Expo Center
- Brandon O’Deay-Director of Technology
- Joey Tureau-Director of Transportation
Each has, by all accounts, performed commendably.
O’Deay (we can speak from experience having many occasions to scour the parish’s governmental website) has improved the department immeasurably. Parish technology services are user-friendly with easy access to information for anyone willing to devote a few minutes of effort. Open Finance, while a work in progress, is improving all the time.
Tureau, who earned his spurs in DOTD’s employ, was a fantastic addition to Ascension’s workforce when he came on as an engineer. Elevating him to Director of Transportation when the position was codified was a no-brainer.
Another holdover, Ken Dawson was appointed Infrastructure Division Director after surviving two previous administrations as Chief Administrative Officer. Dawson replaced…
William Daniel who was hired by Matassa to “bring sanitary sewer to Ascension” in a potentially devastating deal for the parish. Ultimately, voters decided to sell all east bank sewer treatment operations to National Water Infrastructure (NWI), leading the Council to abolish Ascension Consolidated Utilities District (ACUD) #2 which covered east bank Ascension.
Ken Dawson’s areas of oversight, according to the Org Chart, include East Ascension Drainage/Public Works, West Ascension Drainage, Transportation and Utilities. His presence, along with getting out of the east bank sewer business, has obviated the urgency of hiring a Director of Utilities which was cited as an area of acute need by SSA Consultants in 2019. Gavin Fleming joined the Matassa administration as the Utilities Director in waiting, but that has not worked out (Fleming is listed as Assistant Utilities Director on the most recent employee roster along with Carl Ladmirault, another holdover).
The parish still operates Parish Utilities of Ascension (PUA) and ACUD #1 on the west bank and consideration of selling them to a private entity has been rejected. According to multiple administration and council sources the break-even point, maybe even profitability, is not that far away.
Early returns for non-ratifiable positions also seem positive. Jade Robin, with a Project Manager Professional title, has drawn praise for upgrades to Fleet Management while Dean Wallace is expected to fill a glaring need as the Storm Water Program Manager.
Michael King brings an impressive resume’ as Recreation Director, an underserved area of parish government over the decades but receiving more attention…and funding now; e.g. the annual franchise fee paid by National Water Infrastructure will go to recreation. Ricky Compton is also dedicated to improving parish recreation and the Council seems compliant, certain of its membership ardently supportive
Strong hires across the board, Cointment and the Council have found areas of agreement upon which to base a cooperative stance going forward. One of his council nemeses conceded a “more cordial working relationship” though complete trust has not been established.
While there have been some rumblings among the rank-and-file about manpower shortages, the 2022 budget allows room for additional hires (up to 500 employees).