According to an ordinance passed by Ascension’s Parish Council without objection on Thursday the parish president will be the highest paid parish-wide elected official beginning in 2020. Initially the ordinance called for the salary to be an average of those received by Ascension’s sheriff ($163,032), tax assessor ($158,746) , and clerk of court ($160,678) but the Council’s Personnel Committee recommended setting the presidents’ salary at one dollar above the highest-paid among those three positions.
Cost of Living increase and “increased job responsibilities” were stated as justification.
Whenever Louisiana’s legislature increases one of those three salaries above the current highest the parish president will receive a corresponding pay increase by operation of the new ordinance. Since January 1, 2004 the official parish presidents’ salary is $100,000 pursuant to an ordinance adopted by a different council at the end of Harold Marchand’s executive term. Ascension’s Home Rule Charter, enacted 25 years ago, establishes a minimum salary; $55,000.
Currently, President Kenny Matassa enjoys a $148,000 salary which relies on three autonomous governmental bodies for one-third of the total. “That was done to supplement” the presidents’ salary according to Parish Attorney O”Neil Parenton. Those bodies include East Ascension Drainage Board, a body comprised of ten east bank council members; and the two-west bank members who serve on West Ascension Drainage Board (Bill Dawson’s District 2 straddles the Mississippi River so he sits on both boards).
Councilman Aaron Lawler sought to amend the ordinance to restrict funding of salary to Ascension’s General Fund, barring any dollars from those autonomous bodies, and citing the Home Rule Charter to support his argument. Section 3-03 (D) reads the president “shall receive only the compensation payable to him as parish president.” But, as Lawler noted, Section 3-03 (C) allows the president to “serve as the head of one or more departments, offices, or agencies.”
EA Drainage enters into regular Cooperative Endeavor Agreements (CEA) to administer drainage. What happens if some future parish president squawks about undertaking the job without additional compensation, or the Board opts against the CEA?
“That’s the problem that we ran into before,” recalled Parenton. “The Drainage Board fired the parish president.”
It was the tail end of former president Ronnie Hughes’ lone term (2004-07). Councilman Oliver Joseph suggested language charging a presidential administration with oversight of all governmental departments
“I would like the autonomy to work with that relationship or sever it, whatever is best for the parish,” opined Councilman Randy Clouatre.
And so it was. Lawler’s motion failed and the ordinance establishing the presidents’ salary at one dollar above the next highest parish-wide official was enacted without objection.
Three council members; Travis Turner, Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, and John Cagnolatti were absent.