SSA Consultants: Pffft…there goes another $200,000

Dr. Christel Slaughter (courtesy of Channel 21)

SSA Consultants, already engaged to evaluate Ascension Parish Government’s employee compensation plan, was tasked by the Council to include an Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness Study.  It was supposed to “provide the Parish the opportunity” to (1) Reduce the cost of government; (2) Improve the level of services provided to residents; and (3) Improve managerial oversight and ability to communicate “the quantity and quality of services” of those services to the public.  SSA’s  $160,000 worth of studies have already been mothballed, roundly ignored by the Council which recently approved another $40,000 for the firm to dupe Ascension taxpayers yet again.

SSA compared Ascension to four Home Rule Charter parishes including neighboring Livingston where 140,000 residents make do with a $44 million parish budget.  Ascension, with 121,557 people, budgeted $127 million for 2017.  $54 million in parish and local taxes were collected in Livingston last year compared to $127 million in Ascension.  The parish may not have anything to show for $127 million but at least its breaking even.

That comes to $1,045.85 spent per every Ascension resident, a figure that is doubled in East Baton Rouge where a $900 million budget lavishes $2,012.90 per resident.  Where does the money go?

30% ($26,400,000) of Ascension’s $87,997,000 Operational Budget goes toward Public Works, 17% ($15,000,000) to Drainage.  According to SSA 47% ($18,330,000) of Ascension’s $39 million Capital Budget is devoted to Drainage with 35% ($13,650,000) to “road and bridge projects.”  We defy someone, anyone, from the Matassa administration to itemize those expenditures.

SSA’s 80-page report offers recommendations to improve every parish governmental department, except those which were subsequently created by presidential fiat.  Having pocketed its initial fee SSA was brought on board to legitimize the administration’s most recent duplicity when the Council’s Finance Committee amended SSA’s Master Contract to add $40,000 on July 11.

Dr. Christel Slaughter and her team at SSA assisted in a “national search” to land recently-hired Human Resources Director Taleta Wesley and promised to participate in the quest to fill two more vacancies over Recreation and Utilities.  Slaughter was present during three interviews which resulted in the hiring of BJ Romano as Recreation Director but no effort was made to identify Ascension’s next Utilities Director.  Instead President Matassa created a brand new position, Infrastructure Division Director which subsumes the duties of Utilities chief.

HR Director Wesley fell in line with administration shenanigans when she commenced a “national search” for Ascension’s inaugural Infrastructure Division Director which was scheduled for four days, September 26-29.  Pelican Post accurately reported that William Daniel, IV had already been chosen on September 27 and it was announced on October 10.  SSA Consultants and Dr. Christel Slaughter went along with the farce though working from a different script:

William Daniel (left) who is not really 7′ tall with his boss, President Matassa

On October 12 Dr. Slaughter responded to a Pelican Post email:

We did agree to help Ascension with three key hires (there was no HR director in place at the time) – HR, Recreation and originally the Utilities Director which eventually morphed into the Infrastructure Division Director. We have done a significant number of executive searches in both the public and private sectors. Since we had recently done six searches for EBR as they split up the Department of Public Works, we had dozens of fairly current resumes and did talk with some of the top candidates. Candidly, the best one would not apply because the salary was too low.

If my memory serves me, I think William had served on a transition team between the Martinez-Matassa transition and had mentioned to someone that he might be interested in a position in AP.  I think Ken Dawson told us that he might want to be considered and I called him myself.

Honestly, I didn’t think much about the Council being involved as the position was not identified in the Plan of Government as one that needed to be ratified.

Honestly, neither does the Plan of Government identify Recreation and Utilities as ones that needed to be ratified either.

Infrastructure Division Director did not exist when SSA delivered its report to a Special Finance Committee meeting on September 6.  Dr. Slaughter concluded the parish’s “organizational structure has a long-standing fluidity that facilitates an environment of instability, unclear reporting lines, and confusion…”  (That ain’t all it facilitates).  For example, the “administration has recently moved the transportation function out of Public Works, creating a separate Transportation Department.”

SSA noted “The Ascension Parish Charter…gives the Council he power to form Departments with a two-thirds vote of the Council.”  The Charter does not give the parish president such power and SSA urged the Council to adopt an organizational chart “through an ordinance.”  But that was before William Daniel’s hiring to fill another position which the Council had not created in a department which it had not “form(ed) by ordinance” as required by the Charter.

What could account for Dr. Slaughter singing a different tune now?  Could it have anything to do with the extra $40,000 SSA stands to reap as it emits the aura of legitimacy to another illegal action by Matassa’s administration?  (And we don’t mean bribery to rig an election).

This is what this administration does best, co-opting whatever overpaid firm is engaged to spout the party line.  Matassa has been given unfettered access to the check book by a feckless Parish Council which is supposed to control the purse strings.  When has Ascension’s governing authority, its legislative branch refused to appropriate any dollar amount requested by the administration?  It is a rare occasion when a Council member makes rudimentary inquiry into the expenditure.

On June 1 Council Chairman Bill Dawson pushed adoption of a resolution urging implementation of SSA recommendations to Matassa.  Both of them have ignored the report in favor of business as usual.  Actually, Matassa rarely bothers to show up leaving the dirty work to his CAO Ken Dawson.

It is left to the Council to check (and balance) Matassa’s profligacy and no dollar has ever been spent without Council appropriation.  Matassa could not burn through $127 million without the Council’s complicity.