If you are among those citizens frustrated and angry at Ascension Parish’s Planning Commission, your frustration and anger are misdirected. The sentiments should be focused squarely at the Parish Council members who persist in the decades long charade of a Personnel Committee, appointed by the council chair, to recommend individuals for service on various boards, commissions, and committees. It is all predetermined; rigged to retain pro-development commissioners like Matthew Pryor and oust anti-development members like Richard Carmouche.
The process by which the council attained its desired result while preserving a thin veneer of legitimacy, creating more hoops through which to jump when necessary to deflect criticism…that’s the story.
Last week Personnel convened to re-interview eight Planning Commission applicants because governing authority (the parish council) leadership did not like the results of a February 22 meeting. Tentatively scheduled for the council’s April Fools Day agenda (the parish government website included it on the agenda posted Monday, then removed); what could be more apropos?
With three seats on the seven-member commission vacant (members serve staggered two-year terms so that vacancies occur every year; three in odd-numbered, four in even-numbered years), eight applications were received. Three commissioners (Matthew Pryor, Ken Firmin, and Richard Carmouche), each of whom applied for reappointment, saw their terms expire on February 8.
Currently occupying Planning’s chairmanship, Matthew Pryor is the darling of a pro-development contingent of the Parish Council. Unashamedly (and repeatedly) self-proclaiming his “pro-development” stance, Pryor gives the council leadership exactly what it wants out of a commissioner: a rubber-stamp on uncontroversial new development and, more importantly, justification for approval of subdivisions loathsome to neighboring residents who appear in vigorous opposition.
Last month’s opening act of Personnel’s current farce saw two members go off script; and Pryor ended up in a three-way tie for the third and final spot. All eight applicants ranked (low score being better):
- Ken Firmin-12
- Phillip Bellan-12
- Matthew Pryor-16
- Richard Carmouche-16
- Polly Glover-16
- Susan Jordan-19
- Nathan Spicer-26
- Michael Varnado-27
Councilmen Michael Mason and Chase Melancon ranked Carmouche first with Pryor eighth and sixth, respectively. Councilmen Corey Orgeron and John Cagnolatti inverted the scores, resulting in two composite scores of “16.” Polly Glover joined them when Mason and Melancon both ranked her fourth, with a third and fifth from Orgeron and Cagnolatti.
A second vote could not separate the three applicants tied at “16” and, rather than forwarding results to the full council, the charade proceeded to Act Two on March 24. Reaching its denouement on Wednesday, the curtain closed in anti-climax after a minor plot revision restored order from the chaos created by rogue Personnel Committee members.
When Personnel “re-interviewed” all eight applicants an absent cast member from February rejoined the troupe…
Donaldonsville’s Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas, whose district has not had a new subdivision in nearly four decades, clinched it. Who didn’t see this coming?
- Ken Firmin-13
- Matthew Pryor-19
- Michael Varnado-23
- Polly Glover-23
- Phillip Bellan-24
- Nathan Spicer-24
- Susan Jordan-25
- Richard Carmouche-29
Michael Varnado won the tie-breaking vote against Polly Glover for third place. His application, along with that of Firmin and Pryor, was included in the Council’s agenda meeting packet published on Monday, then deleted from the parish’s governmental website.
Staunchly pro-development, Pryor is the perfect commissioner for a significant contingent of the council (probably a majority). Since his initial appointment on July 9, 2014 there have been 54 new residential subdivision preliminary plats considered by the commission. Pryor has cast a single vote to DENY, and that was against Brookstone Subdivision which would be approved on appeal in April of 2016.
Thus, it is no surprise that he would be elevated by a fully-functioning five-member Personnel Committee with singular purpose in mind; provide cover for the full council to do what it was going to do anyway.
Richard Carmouche is another matter entirely, having voted to DENY every subdivision plat which came before the Planning Commission since his October 14 swearing in. Five subdivision plats in all, four residential and one commercial; the newest Planning member has rejected Windsor Park, Clare Court, Windermere Crossing and Pelican Point-14th Filing residential plats, and Buzzard Roost’s commercial one). Each was approved without his vote.
Pryor had to stay, and Carmouche had to go, the latter having worn out his welcome in five short months. But other applicants saw drastic changes to their rankings from one month to the next.
What could account for the wild fluctuations from February 22 to March 24?
Ranked dead last by Personnel in February, Michael Varnado is being recommended for appointment as the third-ranked applicant. Phillip Bellan tied for the top spot last month only to see his stock plummet to a fifth place tie last week. Carmouche in a distant last place was expected, Councilmen Mason and Melancon gave up on his doomed candidacy to push Bellan, both ranking him No. 1.
Those machinations, sniffed out by their colleagues, were all for naught when Alvin Thomas joined forces with Councilmen Orgeron and Cagnolatti. Bellan received one last place vote and two seventh place votes after a third and a fifth from Orgeron and Cagnolatti in February. What changed with his application?
When a firm council majority favors subdivision development, regardless of insufficient infrastructure to accommodate it, it will find a way to appoint Planning Commissioners to do its bidding.