Sausage-making: Part II “Following the money in Parish President’s race”

Today is the deadline for five candidates to file campaign finance reports in anticipation of the October 24 election to succeed Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez (and all other elections for that matter).  Two candidates, Chris Loar and Clint Cointment, filed reports in February itemizing contributions received through 2014 which could not have drawn a starker contrast. (Three candidates, including Kenny Matassa, had collected no money by end of 2014 and so, reported none). Loar bested Cointment’s total in a single day.

July 1, 2013 was that red-letter day for Loar’s campaign.

It received 19 contributions totaling over $45,000 compared to Cointment’s $31,995 for the entire period.  17 of those Loar contributors gave max contributions of $2,500 and, at least, 13 have contracted to provide services to Ascension Parish since the beginning of 2014 (that is according to a list of parish contracts provided in response to a public information request).

Cointment received a total of five max contributions and none from any entity doing business with Ascension Parish.  80% of Cointment’s money came from within Ascension Parish compared to 16% of Loar’s $170,050 through December 31, 2014; East Baton Rouge money alone nearly tripled what Loar received from his home parish.

The current District 7 Councilman, and former Parish Council Chair whose control of Council meeting agendas angered more than one of his colleagues, tapped into the development community; engineers, architects, builders and other firms doing, or trying to do, business with Ascension.

Chris Loar push card in this writers mailbox Thursday morning..."Small government and more power to the people?"

Chris Loar push card in this writers mailbox Thursday morning…”Small government and more power to the people?”

Of the 110 contributions to his campaign, 49 were the maximum amount and no less than 22 have ties to firms which benefited from contracts issued by Ascension Parish since January of 2014.  More often than not, the subject firms enjoyed several parish contracts.

GSA Consulting Engineers, Inc. was awarded the largest contract amount which stands to reason since it took the lead on Modified P-1-6, Ascension’s foray into east bank comprehensive sewer.  $2.4 million of its $2.54 million is attributed to “SRF Capital Sewer Project” and, to be clear, the information produced by Ascension Parish did not include amounts paid to date or remaining balances.

While GSA did not contribute to Loar’s campaign directly, two different companies owned by its managing partner both gave the candidate max contributions on July 1, 2013,

Hartman Engineering, Inc. led the way with six contracts, five of which came in just under $50,000, obviating the necessity of Council approval, totaling $279,778.  The sixth contract was for $30,000 and the job was described as “Resident Inspector LA 42 Sewer Project.”  Hartman’s Operations Manager ponied up an extra $1,500 to Loar’s campaign on December 9, 2014.

Hartman’s contractual obligations include providing engineering on four sewer projects, “Drainage Improvements to Astroland Subdivision” for $49,999, and “Resident Inspector-Lamar Dixon Sports Complex Lighting” for $49,920.

Ascension’s insurance agent gave Loar $2,500; so did the parish bond counsel (who happens to serve on Loar’s campaign steering committee along with his partner) who received a contract calling for him to “Provide legal assistance to parish president on as needed basis” in return for $49,000.

According to current Parish President Tommy Martinez, oftentimes the full contractual amount is never earned and thus, not paid in full.

Seven more engineering firms who contributed to Loar were awarded contracts by the parish from January 1, 2014 to the present totaling over $1 million, according to the list provided Pelican Post.  The firms include one who employs another member of Loar’s steering committee.

In February of 2014 three of those engineering firms were each awarded contracts valued at $100,000.  All three contracts contained the same object of performance:

“Consultant Support Services for AP Recreation Dept for a variety of recreational projects throughout the parish which includes but not limited to lighting and recreational project designs.”

Total Energy Solutions got a May 2014 contract for “Emergency Backup Generators at Lamar Dixon Expo Center” with a face value of $902,457; and another valued at $31,675 in June for “Preventative Maintenance for fixed and mobile generators.”  The company did not contribute to Chris Loar’s campaign but one of its members maxed out the candidate out on July 1, 2013.

InfiniEDGE Software ponied up $2,500 on July 1, 2013 and received a contract worth $18,750 in July of 2014.

Mougeot Architecture, LLC did the same and its bid to design Ascension’s new Governmental Complex was accepted.  A second architectural firm, Domain Architecture, gave Loar $2,500 on July 17, 2013 and one of its members is also on his steering committee.  It received a contract valued at $115,000 two months ago to “Design Fire Station # 34.”

ELOS Environmental gave Loar $1,000 on December 10, 2014; the same month that it was awarded a “Wetland Delineation and Permitting” contract in the amount of $200,000.

Pelican Post emailed Chris Loar to elicit comment and alerted him to the email by text, but no response has been forthcoming.  Clint Cointment reserved comment “until after the next campaign finance reports are filed.”

But Loar had this to say when his campaign issued a press release in February touting “that he raised over $170,000 in the campaign.”

“I am deeply grateful for the widespread support we have received from folks who believe in my conservative, results-driven vision for Ascension.  I am committed to making this parish an example of progress for the entire state, and with the continued support of so many people who share that vision, I’m confident we’ll get there,” Loar said via press release.

Loar’s most ardent support, if dollar amount is the barometer, came from folks outside of Ascension’s parish limits.  A Ferriday company, Bryan Hammett & Associates, LLC, supported Chris Loar’s vision to the tune of $10,000.

The company contributed $2,500 and so did two of its employees.  A third individual with common membership to Hammett in a separate company also contributed the maximum allowed.  All four contributions were made on the same day; December 9, 2014.

Bryan Hammett & Associates was awarded a single contract, and for only $40,000.  But there is more to these contracts than meets the eye.  The company is performing survey work on Conway Bayou valued at $72,000 according to an email obtained by Pelican Post; but there is no corresponding contract on the list provided by Ascension Parish.

That is because Bryan Hammett is being paid through the $150,000 levee accreditation contract awarded to HNTB Corporation in November of 2014.  HNTB is not a Loar contributor, but HNTB Holdings, Ltd., a Kansas City-based firm, contributed $1,000 to the campaign in December of 2014.

Chris Loar was among the staunchest supporters of Better Recreation NOW!, a 5-mill property tax that would have generated $58 million over a ten-year lifespan; if it had not been defeated at the polls by a 62-38% margin.  As it turns out, Better Recreation NOW! did cost the taxpayers.

In March 2014 Percy & Company was awarded a $24,434 contract for “Assistance with soliciting public input regarding facilities and programs development effort” which resulted in the recreation plan to put before the voting public on November 4, 2014.  The company was assisted by Barbara Carey.

In September of 2014 an $188,941 “Public Outreach and Education Service-Recreation” contract was awarded to Otey White & Associates, Advertising and Public Relations, Inc.  The Parish Council authorized the contract, and a few members insisted that the effort could not endorse or oppose the recreation tax.

Any reading of the final product could not but conclude the final product argued for passage of Better Recreation NOW! which still failed to convince Ascension voters.

The connection?  Something called The Communications Institute contributed $500 to Chris Loar’s campaign on April 21, 2014.  The Institute’s members include Otey White & Associates, Barbara Carey, and Percy & Company.

The brother of Percy & Company owner, in addition to sitting on Loar’s steering committee, contributed $750 to the campaign in two installments.

That is how some of the sausage got made in Ascension Parish and Chris Loar’s campaign pocketed $170,050 leafs of cabbage as of December 31, 2014.  Pelican Post has learned that Loar filed his most recent finance report on Wednesday.  Like Deepthroat advised in All the President’s Men, Pelican Post will continue to follow the money…not only Chris Loar’s, but every candidate’s as Election Day nears.