Ascension’s Parish Council has had its fair share of colorful characters over its 27-year existence, succeeding an even more colorful police jury. Likewise, childish animosity toward a parish president’s administration is nothing new with a chief executive ill-equipped to absorb partisan political attacks gracefully. But Councilman Corey Orgeron’s behavior has set a new standard for boorishness and dishonesty all, apparently, in an effort to obstruct President Clint Cointment’s agenda and disrupt local governance.
The District 4 (Prairieville) representative’s behavior during the June 17 Special Meeting of East Ascension Drainage Board fanned the flames of recall against him, and earned a second Monday morning headline (because Orgeron’s buffoonery cannot be contained in a single story).
While he is not the only council member critical of Cointment (some of it deserved), Corey Orgeron’s blatant disregard of decorum and the facts appears a bridge too far. Even Councilman Aaron Lawler, always willing to self-glorify and blame shift in Cointment’s direction, pulled back on the rhetoric after his colleague went off the rails. There’s still Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas, a witless tool perfectly willing to read any baseless anti-Cointment diatribe provided him by his colleagues (and Councilman Dal Waguespack’s more subtle pretense of employing the Socratic method).
Maybe the tipping point has been reached as Orgeron’s antics, we are told, have worn thin with most of his colleagues. Maybe not since Chairwoman Teri Casso has demonstrated no ability to rein him in, and probably does not wish to do so. (Coincidentally, there’s a recall buzz around her hive too).
Prior to Thursday’s regularly-scheduled Council meeting there was a special session of East Ascension Drainage Board as a tropical weather system in the Gulf of Mexico threatened up to 8″ of rain. It was a cause for real concern as many residents had yet to recover from a May flood event. So Cointment had parish crews undertake measures on Smith Bayou intended to meet the anticipated emergency that, fortunately, failed to materialize when the system bypassed Ascension.
Replacing the weir in Smith Bayou with a gate valve “moved water upstream of those weirs for the first time in Ascension Parish history” according to Drainage Director Ron Savoy. Savoy went on to request EA Drainage approval to dredge .5 mile of the channel utilizing parish personnel. It is part of the larger New River Dredging Project, 2.7 miles permitted by the Corps of Engineers in 2019.
Unwilling to let a crisis be wasted, Councilman Orgeron went on the attack.
“This is not about solving a problem. This is about hiding behind a curtain so that we can avoid admitting the real problem is about day-to-day operation…(and the administration)…sat on its hands for 17 months.”
He went on to claim, erroneously, that…
“I kept asking what we could do in the northern part of the parish to dredge out some of these canals (New River/Smith Bayou flow in Gonzales). Had I known that since 2019 we had permits from the Corps telling us that we could proceed with these actions I would have been a little more insistent.”
If there is evidence of him asking about any dredging project we have not seen it. We invite him, or anyone else, to provide it. If Orgeron really did not know the New River Dredging permit was issued he is alone in that ignorance.
Drainage Director Savoy summarized the project’s history.
- 5+ years of discussion with H. Davis Cole Engineers tasked to design the project in 2017;
- Bids were let in 2019, a contract awarded to the low bidder, $4.436 Million from B & K Construction in August 2019; but the company pulled out after failing to include certain wetlands mitigation costs in its bid.
- Rebid in September of 2020 with a change in scope to retain the weirs, but with gate valves installed;
- The contract was initially awarded to Bridging the Gap Solutions’ $3,944,300 bid in October 2020, then successfully challenged in court for procedural deficiencies (currently on appeal).
“Shame on us for not having gotten it done sooner. People might not have flooded back in May…had we put those shovels in the canals like I been asking,” Orgeron could not help himself.
Curiously, Orgeron chose to abstain when approval of the scaled down project came up for a vote. He “just wanted to make sure that we’re in compliance with the permit.” He also asserted a concern that the material being excavated did not infringe on any landowner’s property rights, claiming to have received calls from neighboring residents…in Gonzales.
The prospect of any Gonzales resident contacting Corey Orgeron about any issue is beyond laughable. When he mercifully stopped talking EA Drainage Board voted 8-0 to approve the scaled back efforts of Ascension’s DPW; then authorized a third bid for the remainder of New River Dredging. Orgeron was joined by Councilman Lawler in abstaining.
It was a pathetic display consistent with a pattern of behavior that will not end until Orgeron’s tenure does.