Orgeron leaves Casso holding the bag as Sewer Committee disbanding after one (official) meeting

Council Chairwoman Teri Casso

Mercifully, the six-member committee created to negotiate with Ascension Sewer, LLC is on its way to oblivion, said committee having unanimously voted to disband at its first and only meeting on Tuesday.  It was an awful idea from inception, made worse when half of the six -member team conducted an April 30 Zoom conference with Ascension Sewer unbeknownst to other members.  And then Ascension Sewer’s Jeff Baudier appeared at the May 19 Utilities meeting to recount parts of that conference better left unsaid, sounding the death knell for the ill-fated Sewer Committee.

The vote was a recommendation to the full council.

Doomed from the beginning, the whole fiasco was the brainchild of Councilman Corey Orgeron who proposed a “Negotiation Team” during a January 30 meeting of the Utilities Committee he chairs.  The District 4 councilman skipped Tuesday’s dismemberment.  There is a reason negotiations are generally left to the executive branch of government.

Orgeron, along with Council Chairwoman Teri Casso and Infrastructure Director Ken Dawson, participated in that Zoom conference with Ascension Sewer on April 30.  Afterwards, the consortium was supposed to deliver its latest proposal for regional sewer treatment by May 12.  Ascension Sewer balked after Parish President Clint Cointment unveiled an alternative “Preliminary Plan” disseminated by this publication on May 11.

Ascension Sewer’s Jeff Baudier appeared at the next Utilities meeting on May 19 to spill the beans.

“To put this thing in a little bit of context, to understand our reaction (to Parish President Clint Cointment’s Preliminary Plan), which was, if you recall when we set up the Zoom conference, there was a request, obviously, to get back together,” he began.  “We were anxious to get back together to see where we stood.  And there was a series of questions from the negotiating committee.  And what that really amounted to was, questions about what had changed or had anything changed since December (with Ascension Sewer’s 2019 proposal).”

“There was another request or, maybe say two requests,” Baudier continued.  “The second was a request that came out during that meeting; to comment on the ‘alternative plan’ which we had not known more than in concept at that point.  But there was a question of, well, if there’s going to be an alternative plan proposed by the administration, or by anyone else, the request was ‘we want your comment on it.'”

Baudier’s company sought (in an email to Ken Dawson), “All copies of the engineering data and financial analysis that formed the basis for the alternate plan presented by parish officials” to fulfill the second request; “to comment on the alternative plan…proposed by the administration.”

Fast forward to Tuesday.

“I would never agree to that,” Councilman Joel Robert assured, arguing that Ascension Sewer would gain an unfair negotiating advantage.

Robert asked parish attorney, David Fleshman of Breazeale Sachse & Wilson, to explain.  Fleshman claimed that the request described by Jeff Baudier never happened, adding that no contact has been had with Ascension Sewer since May 19.  Fleshman’s boss backed up his claim.

“I can categorically tell you, that request was not made,” declared Tim Hardy.  “Whether or not it was made somewhere else, or outside, I can’t say.”

Only two council members participated in that April 30 teleconference.  Corey Orgeron’s absence on Tuesday left Teri Casso holding the bag.

“I don’t really recall anybody asking so, I mean, I would own that if I thought I had asked.  I think I said to Clint (Cointment) the other night, ‘I could have asked them, I could have said, would you analyze any alternative plan.’  I just don’t recall the specifics, so I would really like for us, anytime we have those kinds of calls, that we have really good, concise minute-taking so that we would not have this issue,” Casso’s attempted clarification confused the issue further.

Too bad the Zoom conference was not broadcast on YouTube like just about every council/committee meeting (except for Tuesday’s.  Go figure).

“Do we know exactly whether or not that was said?  I really couldn’t remember if myself, or someone else had specifically asked that question,” Casso kept digging.  “I truly could not recall.”

Was Jeff Baudier making it all up on May 19?  Fortunately, that meeting was preserved for posterity via YouTube at link below (beginning 57:20 into video, it’s a very illuminating 45 seconds.  Chairwoman Casso’s recollection was much clearer last week).

Baudier:  Given the fact that one of the requests to us was to comment on any alternative plan, we obviously want to have the information necessary.

Councilman Aaron Lawler: Who made the request that you comment on the alternative plan?

Baudier:  That was part of the conversation that was had during the Zoom conference, from the negotiating committee.

Councilman Orgeron:  And that is my recollection.

Councilwoman Casso:  That’s my recollection as well.

Whether these three council members think it is a good idea to provide information to one’s negotiating adversary aside, why would they rely on Ascension Sewer to analyze a competitor’s plans?  It makes little sense until one considers that Casso and Lawler were ready to sign off on Ascension Sewer’s proposal last year without any negotiation being conducted at all.  They were not alone on the council which saw six incumbents ousted on October 12, 2019.

“I’m perfectly willing to make a motion that we disband this committee,” Casso was ready to stop the bleeding on Tuesday, still urging cooperation with Ascension Sewer.

No one disagreed.

There remains a May 20, 2019 Cooperative Endeavor Agreement which obligates the parish (the District in contractual language) to do…well, what exactly?  The operative language reads:

The Company agrees to work diligently in cooperation with the District to develop and present within ninety (90) days of the CEA Effective Date a comprehensive plan for the construction, management, operation and maintenance of the System, along with proposed costs and rate structures for Parish Council review and consideration. Upon receipt of the Company’s proposal, the Parish Council will use best efforts to place the proposal on its agenda for consideration and a vote at the earliest practicable opportunity.

Ascension Sewer’s proposal was placed on the Council’s December 20, 2019 agenda…

The PEOPLE won on Friday; Sewer deal DENIED, rescheduled for January 23

There is an “exclusivity clause” whereby “the Parties agree that, for a period of two (2) years, the Company shall have the exclusive right to negotiate an agreement with the District to construct, manage, operate and maintain the System. In the event the Parties are unable to execute a Construction and Operating Agreement within such time period, either Party may terminate this Agreement upon thirty (30) days’ written notice to the other Party.”

Ascension Sewer has yet to present its updated proposal to begin the negotiation process.  Tick, tock.