The only noteworthy item on Monday’s East Ascension Drainage Board agenda was the one omitted. Nearly 13 months ago it appeared that President Clint Cointment had been forced into a power-sharing agreement whereby an, as yet unidentified, Drainage Director would be hired to usurp certain of the parish chief executive’s authority over drainage. The usurpation is officially dead as Cointment emerged unscathed if not stronger than ever.
Six (out of ten) members having been foiled in their attempt to wrest control over East Ascension Drainage’s day-to-day administration from President Cointment, an Addendum to the Existing Agreement was approved by the Drainage Board on October 18, 2021. The vote was 8-1 as Councilman Joel Robert refused to participate in one of the sorriest spectacles ever hatched by the most petulant of council members (who sit Ex Officio on the Drainage Board) ever mustered in Ascension’s 28-year experiment with Home Rule. The Addendum expired two weeks ago with no indication that it will be renewed.
Clearly, the big winner is President Clint Cointment along with the throng of passionate citizens who supported him last year (and SSA Consultants, of course). Whenever some enterprising council member wants to create the facade of progress it seems they concoct a six-figure payment to SSA Consultants in return for a slickly produced study supposed to foster efficiency, or effectiveness, or some other worthy goal. There is never much follow through.
With the dust settled the latest sorry spectacle can be seen for what it is, a waste of time and money paid to SSA in return for busy work yielding absolutely no benefit to Ascension’s taxpayers. It is by no means the first, but hopefully the last, time SSA has banked considerable parish monies for work product completed then roundly ignored. It was deja vu all over again when the firm was paid…well, to:
- Assist in figuring out a newly-created Drainage Director position job duties, powers, etc.
- Figure out the appropriate salary range
- Launch a national search for the individual to assume the position
According to multiple of the membership, Councilman Aaron Lawler alone sought to bring up the Addendum for a renewal. Requiring six votes to do so, Lawler alone was willing to subject them to another round of the withering public excoriation they endured at three meetings in mid-2021.
The practical effect is a return to the status quo in place since 2009. That is when EA Drainage reinstalled the agreement whereby Ascension Parish Government and the parish president took over administration and day-to-day operations. Those powers had been wrested from then parish president, Ronnie Hughes, in 2006 when his relationship with the Council/Drainage Board had deteriorated beyond repair.
The governing authority was not going to allow Hughes’ continued control of the biggest pot of tax dollars in Ascension (those revenues generated by EA Drainage’s .5% sales tax and 5-mill property tax assessment). Hughes’ lone term in the parish presidency was 2004-07.
On December 21, 2006 the Drainage Board voted (9-1 with Prairieville Councilman Doug Hillensbeck in the minority) to hire Bill Roux as the first General Manager over East Ascension Drainage District. And Ronnie Hughes was out when Roux accepted the position on January 8, 2007. The arrangement lasted until March 2, 2009 when the Intergovernmental Agreement between the Drainage District and the Parish of Ascension turned the reins back over to President Tommy Martinez.
Fast forward three administrations, and with a year to go in their current terms (Election Day is October 14, 2023) there is enormous downside to reviving this coup attempt, and little to be gained when EA Drainage’s membership cannot muster a majority to define a Drainage Director position. Conversely, their is minimal upside. As Councilman Joel Robert assured last year:
“It doesn’t matter what y’all (the majority) do, we’ll just undo it in January of 2024” when, we predict, six members will have been turned out of office.