The PEOPLE won on Friday; Sewer deal DENIED, rescheduled for January 23

The power of THE PEOPLE was evidenced last night as their Parish Council postponed the momentous decision, whether or NOT to approve a controversial agreement with Bernhard Capital Partners-backed Ascension Sewer, LLC.  The PEOPLE showed up in force, unhappy and unwilling to endure lectures or pontification from Ascension officials, elected or not.  Anticipated to be an approval, the Construction, Operation and Cooperative Endeavor Agreement would garner only two votes against seven, with the same tally rescheduling consideration for January 23, 2020.

Led by the PEOPLES’ champion…

Parish President-Elect Clint Cointment

their will prevailed in a power struggle that will begin in earnest on January 6.  That’s when Clint Cointment is sworn in as parish president.

His predecessor?  Not a word, not even a whimper from President Kenny Matassa who ducked out early, having had enough once a council motion had been made to postpone the vote.

That motion was offered by Councilman Bill Dawson, seconded by Councilman Todd Lambert in a display of class that put aside emotion and personal preference, leaving the decision to their successors.  Neither will be re-seated come January.  It was applauded by a standing-room-only crowd, 32 of whom spoke clearly, sometimes loudly, against the agreement (23 others signed red cards in opposition).

Four more incumbents will not return, including both minority votes (Councilmen Daniel “Doc” Satterlee and Oliver Joseph).  Benny Johnson was absent, leaving lame-duck Councilman Randy Clouatre, visibly, palpably agitated to the point of calling out the Parish President-Elect, demanding a guarantee from Clint Cointment to continue negotiations with Bernhard Capital Partners.

Cointment and newly-elected Councilman Chase Melancon (Clouatre’s District 6 successor) spent the better part of ten days, with Bill Dawson and a few others, trying to improve the 83-page document.  Submitting multiple drafts for Bernhard’s consideration until Chairwoman Teri Casso pulled the plug, the version considered on Friday ignored most of the Cointment team’s work.

Melancon, disarmingly charming, left a Christmas party to have his three minutes at the public speakers’ microphone…

“860 pages, nine versions. Most people don’t know what’s in here,” explained Melancon, urging at least one public meeting to answer public questions.

with all nine permutations of the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement since November 6 to display.  He echoed the pervading public sentiment, how can anyone be expected to understand so many contractual provisions and their effects when the document has gone through so many revisions.  Melancon presaged the ultimate successful motion, to postpone a decision which should be left to the incoming council, without casting aspersions.

A handful of citizens were not so diplomatic, openly questioning council members’ motives in “ramrodding this sewer deal through” before a new council is seated.  Eliciting the ire, and the gavel, of Chairwoman Casso, the sentiment is understandable given certain of the council’s actions…

voting to pay Matassa’s criminal legal fees most recently, and conspicuously.  There is a reason six members will not be inaugurated on January 6.

Approximately half of the 32 public speakers urged, in the strongest terms imaginable, to leave the vote for 2020’s council.  Why were certain of the current membership so “heck-bent” on making this decision when the PEOPLE wanted to be rid of them?  Judging by the audience’s catcalls, the PEOPLE are not happy with high-ranking administration personnel either.

Infrastructure Director William Daniel.

Hired to fill a position created specifically for him after a sham “four-day national search” in October 2017, Infrastructure Division Director William Daniel has oft said that he took the job “to bring sewer to Ascension Parish.”  It was Daniel who solicited Bernhard Capital Partners’ participation, and Daniel who has been Ascension Sewer’s largest, loudest cheerleader.  He was at it again on Friday, belittling President-Elect Cointment and alienating a vocal contingent in the audience during his patented “quality of life” lecture.

Whose interests does Daniel represent?

When Chairwoman Casso said, “I’d like to invite the BCP team” to the public speakers’ dais it was William Daniel who took over the microphone.  The symbolism was unmistakable.  Then he took a potshot at “people putting out competing plans” without daring to speak Cointment’s name…

William Daniel is wearing out his welcome, and his tenure as Ascension highest-paid employee other than Matassa will, we predict, be short-lived.  Only fitting after mouthing off to actual citizens of the parish that pays his handsome salary.

Randy Clouatre was not so reticent to take on the next chief executive, aggressively demanding to know Cointment’s “intentions come January.”  Will Cointment continue negotiations with Bernhard Capital Partners?

“Give me the conditions precedent (segments of the Agreement thought by Cointment to protect Ascension) and I will be 100% supportive.  When they told me ‘no,’ it was time to start looking for alternatives,” he answered Clouatre.  “And that’s what I did.”

A testy exchange, but sufficient to persuade Clouatre to join the 7-2 majority in voting to reject the agreement, the same vote then scheduling another vote by the incoming council.  The “next “vote was scheduled for January 23, with a condition that “at least” one public meeting be conducted.  Of course, the new council could simply ignore Friday’s action.

“Tonight was a win for Ascension Parish,” Clint Cointment would say after Friday’s meeting.

It was also a win for Clint Cointment, prevailing in a power struggle 16 days prior to assuming the parish presidency.