The case for eliminating Utilities/Strategic Planning Committees

On Thursday an ordinance will be introduced by Ascension’s Parish Council to eliminate two of its six Standing Committees.  Strategic Planning and Utilities have, apparently, outlived their usefulness without the ability to generate sufficient council interest to maintain a three-member quorum most months.

Strategic Planning “vision is to promote good governance, promote good planning and monitoring of the overall direction of the parish, to consider matters which help the governing authority to work toward the goal of good governance using the ‘Characteristics of Good Governance’ as a guide and to recommend any other matters to the council that may complement this vision.”  Ordinance 2-100 (9)(e).

The committee never operated toward those lofty sounding goals.  On rare occasions Strategic Planning did produce initiatives which would go on to become law in Ascension.  Since voters adopted the Home Rule Charter on July 17, 1993 there has been a single amendment emanating from the committee when former Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee chaired in 2018.  On November 18, 2017 voters approved:

Shall “Article V, Section 5-04(C)(2). Human Resources Department” of the Home Rule Charter for the Parish of Ascension, State of Louisiana pertaining to the process for hearing appeals of the decisions of the personnel review board be amended to read: “After any hearing, the review board shall submit their advisory recommendations to the parish president. The decisions made by the president in these matters shall be final unless overruled by a two-thirds majority vote of the governing authority members present at the vote of the employee’s appeal.”?

Before the change it took two-thirds of the entire council, eight votes, even when council members did not show up to consider employee appeals.  Then Chairman Satterlee also effectuated, at the same Strategic Planning meeting, a drastic change to the Development Code.  On September 21, 2017 the Council abolished the Planning Commission Board of Appeals, formerly a three-member panel appointed by the parish president, deemed “corrupt” by one former Planning Commissioner when multiple subdivision preliminary plat denials were overturned.

Ordinance 17-4092 now reads:  “The Parish Council shall sit as the Planning Board of Appeals and shall receive no additional compensation.”  Ordinance 17-4092.1 follows: “The action by two-thirds vote of the entire Planning Board of Appeals is final.  Any further action shall be commenced in the District Court.”

Strategic Planning, driven by Satterlee, had to overcome significant council resistance to get it done.  Throughout Ascension’s post-Home Rule Charter history the appointed Planning Commission and the three-member appeals board had rarely denied subdivision plats, enraging residents who argued against perceived adverse impact.  Those appointed bodies provided a buffer against an angry constituency and their elected representatives.

It was quite the legislative accomplishment by Satterlee’s Strategic Planning committee.  Most recently Chairman Joel Robert visited the Kratom issue, eventually resulting in the full council’s prohibiting its sale inside Ascension.    None of which reflects the committee’s nebulous statutory vision “to promote good governance, promote good planning and monitoring of the overall direction of the parish.”

Utilities has a more well-defined task.  In accordance wtih Ordinance 2-100 (9)(b), entitled Utilities committee (sewage, water, gas, electric, etc.), the committee is intended to:

  1. Liaison with state and federal agencies with reference to waste management.
  2. Review and recommend facilities with state and federal agencies with reference to sanitary sewerage collection and disposal.
  3. Work to develop a long-term plan for future needs of the parish’s sewerage and solid waste (including funding for such plan).

NOTE: There is no mention of a water company in the ordinance’s text.

Pending Louisiana Public Service Commission action…

NWI to operate parish sewer assets on east bank pending PSC approval of sale

Ascension is “getting out of the sewer treatment business.”  The PSC is scheduled to consider the sale of east bank sewer treatment assets in May.  Anticipating approval the council voted to abolish Ascension Consolidated Utilities District No. 2, exclusive to the east bank in December of 2020.

On the west bank the parish operates a water system comprised of Parish Utilities of Ascension (PUA) and Ascension Consolidated Utilities District (ACUD) #1.  There had been discussions about a potential sale of the system to a private entity among the Council and President Clint Cointment’s administration.  Those discussions have ended, the decision to retain publicly-owned west bank water seeming to coincide with the hiring of a new Chief Financial Officer

There are those among Ascension’s elected officialdom who have revived consideration of moving the water-providing entities; would the City of Donaldsonville be taker?

From June 25, 2015: Donaldsonville Council was interested in purchasing Peoples Water

Utilities Committee meeting agendas include little in addition to operation of Parish Utilities of Ascension and/or Ascension Utilities District No. 1, both entities providing water to residents of the west bank.  The parish recently hired its first Director of Utilities subject to council ratification, so it would seem there is some business left for the committee to oversee.  Maybe it can be accommodated in Finance Committee meetings.