Strategic Planning recommends term limits, addresses “another (substance abuse) epidemic”

District 2 Councilman Joel Robert

Councilman Joel Robert is an outside-the-box thinker who is, to the utter disdain of certain colleagues, driving actual policy like they are not.  Most of the air getting sucked out of the Council Chamber by Councilman Aaron Lawler’s incessant anti-Clint Cointment carping, Robert is the member putting forward ideas intended to improve the lot of Ascension Parish residents, dragging his unwilling (and unwitting) colleagues along.  Case in point; Tuesday’s meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee chaired by Robert.

Four items on the agenda:

a. Discussion of allocating funds to each district at councilman’s discretion for drainage, roads, and infrastructure per set guidelines. (Chairman Joel Robert)
b. Discussion of further details of the Home Rule Charter Amendment to limit the terms of Ascension Parish Council members and the Ascension Parish President as requested by the Full Council. (Chairman Joel Robert)
c. Approval to send to the full council a request to ask for the Attorney General’s opinion of levying a fine on any council member censured by a vote of the Council (Chairman Joel Robert)
d. Discussion & Possible Resolution on regulating the sale of Kratom (Chairman Joel Robert)

Note the presenter for each item.

Last things, first.  We had never heard the term, “Kratom” (krā-tum) before, even with our extensive familiarity with all things mind-altering chemical related.  APSO’s Detective Todd Tullier has, and he appeared before the Strategic Planning Committee (sans Councilman Corey Orgeron fortunately because he has nothing of value to add for his Prairieville constituency, nor the rest of us).

Detective Todd Tullier

Kratom, “another epidemic” in the words of Detective Tullier, is commonly sold at convenience stores and vape shops with no regulatory restrictions at all.  Tullier’s daughter also appeared to tell her story in an uncommon act of bravery (we direct you to our Facebook page where the YouTube video is linked), having battled substance abuse issues culminating with her struggle against Kratom.

It is worth the watch, 31 minutes into the hour-long video.

“If the Council passes an ordinance making Kratom illegal, will the Sheriff’s Office enforce it?” Chairman Robert cut to the chase.

Assured by Detective Tullier that APSO will do so, Councilwoman Teri Casso made the motion “to have legal propose an ordinance prohibiting the sale and use of Kratom” in Ascension Parish.  Casso justified targeting use due to Kratom’s general availability in neighboring parishes.  Whether Ascension’s Parish Council is the appropriate entity to criminalize the substance is a question worth considering since little to no research seems to have been done, no data compiled.

Item (a) above, we must confess, sounded like a bad idea when Councilman Robert first broached the subject.

Phase 1 of Shadows at Manchac pond fix approved, Board to consider adding subdivisions

In January the council, sitting Ex Officio as East Ascension Drainage Board, approved $501,627 worth of public funds (Phase 2 contemplates another $452,101) to remedy a privately-created drainage problem in Shadows at Manchac subdivision.  President Clint Cointment deemed it a “unique situation” because it is a dry detention pond, causing “regional problems” not limited to property owners in the subdivision, having previously conceded:

“We can’t be responsible for every pond in the parish.”

Joel Robert was the first to “open the can of worms” six months ago, conceding a change of heart from the proposal’s initial consideration by the board.  Robert qualified his support on certain of those drainage dollars finding their way into his District 2, proposing a set amount to be allocated in each of the ten east bank council districts.  Should that come to pass it would be a much easier sell to each representative’s constituency, Robert reasoned.

On Tuesday a more thorough discussion was had, including CFO Patrick Goldsmith’s input.  He has some familiarity with similar programs, having worked as Director of (Louisiana) House of Representatives Fiscal Division.  Goldsmith recommended that a priorities list be created for which funding may be available for maintenance (as opposed to capital outlay) in the various funds maintained by Ascension Parish Government and/or EA Drainage.

If the money is available to improve some citizens’ drainage/traffic/quality of life deficiencies, why not spend it?  So long as the General Fund, what one former parish president deemed “the rainy day fund,” is not depleted too much (who’s to say what that amount is?), it would seem an idea worth exploring…courtesy of Councilman Joel Robert.

Items (b) and (c) were first brought up in early 2022 when Chairman Robert could not even get a quorum for multiple Strategic Planning meetings.  On Tuesday the committee unanimously voted to recommend a three-term limit for the Council and Parish President to the full council.  Requiring a vote of the people to amend the Home Rule Charter, eight votes are required to place term limits on the ballot.

Who saw that coming?

And then there is Robert’s move to fine censured members of the Council.  The committee voted to seek an opinion from Louisiana’s Attorney General concerning the governing authority’s authority to do so.  When/if AG Jeff Landry gives the thumbs up, which member can oppose the idea without serious electoral repercussions?

We gave Council Robert little chance of seeing these two initiatives through the legislative process when he first broached the topics in early 2022.  Goes to show the power of an idea combined with the persistence to see it through.  A dismissive bunch of political hacks, belittling their adversary with snark, petulance, vindictiveness but no competing ideas are well-advised to take note.