Five years later, AP Government Efficiency & Effectiveness study Christel-izing

SSA’s Dr. Christel Slaughter (file photo)

In 2016 Ascension Parish hired SSA Consultants to produce an Efficiency & Effectiveness Study.  On December 9 SSA’s Dr. Christel Slaughter appeared before the Parish Council (a different one than that which hired Slaughter five years ago, six of whom did not garner reelection in the 2019 cycle) to deliver a progress report.  That last update by Slaughter occurred in May of 2017 when objectives were presented…four years, seven months later and there is something to report.

It is a work in progress with some progress, at long last, being made.  The first step, ridding Ascension Parish Government of waste and dead weight, began at the very top when the incumbent parish president exited stage left voluntarily.

NOTE:  Rumor has it that Matassa floated the idea of a mayoral run in the City of Gonzales at a recent Christmas Party; no word on what was used to spike the eggnog.

“Unlike any other political jurisdiction that we’ve ever worked with, your parish president is empowered to hire as many people as he or she sees fit as long as they are not creating a new job title,” Christel Slaughter declared.  “When you have a parish president who is trying to be fiscally conservative, you don’t have a problem.  But when you have somebody who wants to hire a lot of people…

Kenny Matassa

or feels like there’s a particular program or area of services that is important to them, they really have the opportunity to do that without any checks and balances.”

Prairieville’s Councilman Aaron Lawler claimed that “several of us (on the council) want to cap the number of employees” because “we don’t know who the next parish president is going to be.  Fortunately, the current administration seeks to limit it.”

NOTE:  Believe it or not, Lawler’s name was being floated as a successor to current parish president, Clint Cointment, a few weeks ago.

Councilman Dal Waguespack offered an alternative to the hard cap, envisioning a system in which any employees in excess of the statutorily established number would require council approval after justification by the administration.

Certain of SSA’s 2017 recommendations were adopted by the former council, but not so many as to justify a Slaughter update because “there wasn’t a lot to say.”  A recalcitrant President Kenny Matassa went so far as to veto an organizational chart in 2017, unnecessarily as it happened since the council vote was 5-4 to adopt with two absences, falling short of the requisite six votes needed to codify any ordinance.

Two decades, plus and Ascension Parish Government is creeping into the 21st Century.  An updated organization chart is included in the 2022 Budget Book…

and more changes are going to be needed, rendered acute when East Ascension Drainage personnel/assets are unmingled from those under the Department of Public Works.  Untangling the comingled mess created since Ascension voters opted for Home Rule in 1993 will take some time, but less than would have been necessary when the Personnel Roster was bloated beyond the ability of department heads to keep track of employees under their supervision and without knowing how much money was in the respective budgets.

Cointment trimmed AP payroll by $2.4 million while adding quality employees

Clearly-defined chains of command, definitive job duties and actual performance metrics proving beyond the grasp of five previous administrations, no wonder the Efficiency & Effectiveness Study has taken more than half-a-decade to accomplish.  Previous councils and administrations simply lacked the will to make it happen and were perfectly contented by the status quo.

In October, four months into a bitter fight over control of East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1, its 1/2% perpetual sales tax and annual 5-mill property tax, the council and administration came to an agreement.  President Clint Cointment retains ultimate authority over EA Drainage, not as autonomous since a newly-created Drainage Directorship must be filled with, as yet, undefined powers and duties.  The parties also agreed that EA Drainage personnel/assets would be separated out from those of Ascension Parish.

Source: 2022 Ascension Parish Budget Book

This is a drastic change since drainage tax monies, $24,648,500 according to current budget projections, have long been commingled with others.  Separating out drainage from other assets is a large part of the Reorganization of Parish Government recommended by SSA Consultants five, plus years ago.  According to Dr. Slaughter a “new and highly-qualified Human Resources Director will be on board soon” to assist the effort along with another goal, Develop Performance Management System, Revise Personnel Policies.

Mandatory Leadership and Supervisory Skills Training is included to help create a better, more efficient workforce pared down by Cointment administration hiring practices over two years.  Another goal, Ensure that New Employees Meet Minimum Qualifications is part of the solution.  In 2016 SSA Consultants found “really low” employee standards which still went unmet in years past.

More shocking still for SSA was the state of data compilation and provision in the Finance Department which has only recently digitized.  Modernize Parish Technology is another of the stated goals in the December 9 presentation, significant strides having been made by the Technology Department already.  Much information is readily accessible to officials and the public alike via the parish website’s Open Finance feature whereas, in 2018, information had to be deciphered by comparing hard copy spreadsheets.

Dr. Slaughter’s “biggest shock” was the realization that “department directors didn’t know how many employees they had” nor any grasp of their budgets.  Establish Departmental Dashboards is part of the recommended remedy along with Require Quarterly Budgeting to Performance Reporting.  In combination that should keep everyone, including council members willing to devote the time and effort, on the same page.

Strides having been made, there is still a long way to go.