EA Drainage and Cointment reach a deal

President Clint Cointment at the microphone, surrounded by the six EA Drainage Commissioners who voted to strip his authority on June 28 (along with EA Drainage vice Chairman Chase Melancon)

Moments ago President Clint Cointment and select members of East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1 (the District) announced an agreement in principle, 12 months in duration, whereby Cointment would retain his authority over drainage works on the east bank of Ascension Parish.  Negotiations resumed yesterday with a deal being reached Tuesday night.  It comes after Chairman Dempsey Lambert’s letter, sent Thursday, notifying Cointment of the District’s intention to terminate the existing agreement whereby the parish president wields authority.

“We’ve all made concessions,” conceded President Cointment who admitted “differences of opinion” but promised to “respect each others differences as we work toward a common goal.”

Joined by the six EA Drainage Commissioners who voted to strip him of authority on June 28, along with EA Drainage Vice Chairman Chase Melancon, it was an exercise in self-congratulation with nary a harsh word uttered.  The outwardly cordial mood belies the tenseness surrounding parish government proceedings since June 17’s vote to approve a 9-month moratorium on subdivision of property (Cointment was adamant that it be for 12 months).

Cointment’s 12-month moratorium rejected as Council opts for 9-month version

His palpable disgust was not masked, and accompanied by overly defiant statements as emotions got the better of him.  Smelling blood in the water after that rancorous proceeding, the council sharks attacked almost immediately.

Commission strips Cointment of drainage duties, ignoring public outcry

Seizing upon the president’s public defiance as justification, six of them voted to strip Cointment’s authority over drainage.  But they overplayed their hand, ignoring overwhelming pro-Cointment sentiment expressed by a chamber full of citizens on June 28.

All six were targeted for recall soon thereafter.  And now they have blinked.  Whatever accounts for the abrupt reversal, the terms preserve Cointment’s powers, for 12 months at least.

“We always had a desire to move forward together,” asserted Council Chairwoman Teri Casso whose actions do not back up the assertion.  “We all had to put forth good faith efforts.”

Council Chairwoman Teri Casso at the microphone.

Hard to swallow given the fact that four council members claimed to have been left out of the loop prior to the June 28 debacle.  Four more claimed to have been completely surprised by EA Drainage Chairman Lambert’s termination letter of September 23.

As of 4:20 p.m. today all seems forgiven though we have a hard time believing the events since June 17 will be forgotten anytime in the foreseeable future.  But the sides have come to an agreement, at least in principle.

The District must still vote to approve the document entitled; Addendum to the Existing Contract-MANAGEMENT AGREEMENT.  Its operative provisions are found under the heading, OBLIGATIONS OF THE PARTIES, which includes the following among its 17 paragraphs:

B.1.  EACGDD does hereby grant unto the office of the Parish President, its heirs, successors, and assigns, the exclusive right to administer the maintenance of, operation of, repair of, and provision for drainage for the Parish of Ascension and any and all appurtenances pertaining thereto.

B.2.  EACGDD does hereby grant unto the Parish, through the Parish President the complete right to use servitude rights including, but not limited to, the right to construct, maintain, inspect, operate, repair, alter, remove and relay the drainage system and ditches and canals using EACGDD equipment and appurtenances as may be necessary and convenient to such operations, together with all rights of ingress and egress to and from said drainage systems, ponds, ditches, canals etc. for the purposes for which EACGDD was created subject to the advice and consent of the EACGDD.

On June 28 the District voted “to establish the position of CEO of East Ascension Drainage District #1” in a proposal that excluded the parish president from operational control, once the current Intergovernmental Agreement expired.  That expiration would have occurred on November 22, after a 60-day notice had elapsed from Chairman Lambert’s termination letter on September 23.  Cointment and his administration would have been tasked “to continue admin functions as part of the 4% annual fee with additional conditions as to the separation of personnel and assets.”

All parties concerned had already conceded that hiring “an expert in the field” over drainage would be a good thing.  In furtherance of that lofty objective the current proposal includes:

B.3. Parish President shall work with SSA Consultants to create an organizational structure, delineate search criteria for a Drainage Director and perform a national search for a Drainage Director to be presented to EACGDD for ratification within 60 days as an additional scope of work to SSA Consultants’ existing professional services contract with the Parish.

B.4. The Ascension Parish Council shall vote to establish the new position with a salary pay range of $135,000 to $210,000 per year or an amount commensurate with market comparable compensation and have SSA adjust the employee organization chart to reflect this new position.

The document calls for the establishment of “a performance-based contract for the Drainage Director position…A professional review board will be created by the Parish President and EAGCDD, with each party having two appointments. This board will recommend the top 2-4 candidates as finalists for the Drainage Director position. The final selection will be approved by a supermajority of the EAGCDD Board.”

The District would “agree that the Drainage Director will be nominated for appointment by the Parish President to the Ascension Parish Governing Authority, and that once ratified, the Drainage Director shall report to the Parish President.”  Drainage staff would be subject to employment policies of Ascension Parish Government.  Additionally:

B.12. The Parish President shall have no objection to the contracting of a Drainage Liaison to EACGDD in the capacity of drainage consultant to EACGDD and liaison between the Parish President and EACGDD Board of Commissioners. This contract will be executed within 30 days and the individual selected will be mutually agreed upon by the Parish President and the EACGDD Board.

B.13. The Parish president shall insure that the Drainage Director provides quarterly updates on Drainage personnel including number of full-time equivalent employees, current payroll including benefits, overtime costs and trends upon the Drainage Director’s hire.

The terms would divest the parish president of his ability to terminate employees and spend any money, unless pre-approved by the District.  Neither would any public communication be allowed without District approval and such “communications to the public pertaining to drainage shall be issued jointly between EACGDD and the Parish President.

According to President Cointment the agreement will be considered for approval at the next regularly-scheduled meeting of EA Drainage, October 11.  The current version is still being edited with legal still to go over it and changes could still be made.