Reorganize Parish Government concludes Efficiency/Effectiveness Study

It was a three-hour presentation, SSA Consultants’ Efficiency and Effectiveness Study findings to a Special Meeting of the Parish Council’s Finance Committee, and that was the condensed version. Dr. Cristel Slaughter and her team presented 11 recommendations after offering seven to Finance in April’s Compensation Study report.  “Reorganize Parish Government” read the title card for SSA’s first recommendation which will be explained in greater detail in the final report, a narrative expected sometime next week.

Slaughter did hand out “a below average grade in some areas” in response to Councilman Oliver Joseph while noting Ascension’s “staggering population growth,” with 60,000 more residents expected to move in by 2030, left parish government struggling to keep pace with growing demands. SSA focused on (1) Reducing the cost of government; (2) Improving services to the people of Ascension Parish; and (3) Improving the parish’s brand.

At present three department’s in parish government have no director.  Human Resources was most recently decapitated when Cheryl Kinchen decided she wanted to get into project management, that was the party line anyway.  It was announced after April’s Finance meeting but the commonly held belief is Kinchen was moved to avoid the Parish Council’s refusal to ratify her appointment to HR.  The decisions to ratify five department heads, all required by Ascension’s Home Rule Charter and corresponding ordinances, was deferred from November 2016, pending SSA’s report.

Not coincidentally, the HR Department received more than its share of criticism, diplomatically delivered by Dr. Slaughter, but criticism nonetheless.  Four of SSA’s recommendations were aimed directly at HR.

“You still act a little bit like a Police Jury Parish,” Slaughter said toward the end of her three hours.  “The Council should require performance to budget presentations every quarter…(because)…Department heads are not held accountable to improve performance.”

It seems the Council has little to no input, even less authority, on parish hiring.  So long as a new job title is not being added President Kenny Matassa’s administration can hire whomever it chooses, and as many of them.

“You’re a wealthy parish, you’ve got money in reserves,” Dr. Slaughter said.

“If you had a bad guy sitting in the parish presidency with the way you do things now, you could double your workforce and you’d have to hear about it from somebody or you’d have to see a whole lotta’ people in Ascension Parish garb walking around on the payroll.”

Or a whole lotta’ people could be promoted to lofty, six-figure, positions without clear job descriptions.  Two General Managers were added to the parish payroll under the current administration, along with ten Project Managers.  It led Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee to wonder if parish government is “top heavy.” Not so, according to SSA which styled it “job title/transparency issues” and it is “unclear what they do.”

SSA’s preliminary presentation did not clarify that muddled picture; maybe in the final narrative report.

There are no metrics  to assess efficiency leading to SSA’s recommendation, Establish Departmental Dashboards.  Dr. Slaughter also recommended Mandatory Leadership and Supervisory Skills Training throughout parish government “all the way up to your Chief Administrative Officer.”  There is no “culture of customer service…it’s just not here.”

“You need a vision for the parish that is articulated by your parish president that can establish priorities and help drive the work activities of parish government,” she recommended. “Do what you say you’re gonna do” if government hopes to gain public trust.

Recreation and Utilities are the other departments without directors.  And Ascension has “taken on utilities with a vengeance,” acquiring a private water company and providing the service on the parish’s west bank.  According to un-ratified CAO Ken Dawson, who sits in for the non-existent Utilities Director (as well as Matassa) during various committee meetings, Ascension is still trying to establish parish-owned wastewater treatment on its east bank.

“You have very little margin for error,” warned Dr. Slaughter “without a director at the moment.

She “strongly recommended finding the best person you can find.”  Given Matassa’s propensity for firing Utilities Directors, what capable, qualified individual will sign up for the job?  His first order of business upon assuming the executive was to fire Bob Horner in January of 2016.  Former Fleet Manager (and longtime friend of Ken Dawson) Bill Depew was given the thankless task only to be dumped last October after trying to raise what seemed legitimate concerns over Ascension’s operation of west bank water.

Recreation becomes all the more important because Ascension Parish is “getting younger.”  New residents attracted to Ascension have tended, and will continue, to be younger couples with children.  That’s a positive according to Cristel Slaughter who urged an “active search for Recreation Director” as opposed to…

Berthelot’s son, one-time Recreation Director, fails drug test (and other tidbits)

After the most political of hires Matassa shifted long-time parish road inspector, Ricky Dearmond, to Recreation.  Apparently that has not worked out though Dearmond is still identified as Recreation Director on Ascension’s governmental website.  Which leads into another area of SSA critique; failure to utilize the website and social media in general to communicate with the distrustful public.

The parish has failed to adapt to modern technology…”You are really bad here,” Dr. Slaughter informed.

Ascension needs more “in-house engineers” because “you oughta’ have the capacity to oversee most of your own projects.”  The administration advertised for two engineering positions early in 2016 but got no respondents.  No wonder, given Dr. Slaughter’s conclusions:

“You have some real morale problems…

I did not anticipate the amount of fear that is out there among frontline employees…

It went all the way up to department heads.