Tough talking Committee slams politics in parish personnel matters

District 8 Councilwoman Teri Casso

SSA Consultants is about to be back on the job in Ascension after taking the better part of two years on an Efficiency/Effectiveness Study partly ignored by President Kenny Matassa and his bloated administration.  On Tuesday the Council’s Personnel Committee welcomed back Dr. Christel Slaughter and her team, recommending another $76,600 to create 200 job descriptions for 500+ parish employees.  Bemoaning past parish presidents’ propensity for political patronage, a tough talking committee promised to “take the politics out”  of parish jobs.

It was Councilwoman Teri Casso, who happens to chair the Finance Committee which pushed to hire SSA two years ago, that led the charge. Conceding heightened difficulty implementing such policies “the closer we get to an election year,” Casso went on:

“We cannot continue the way we have.  It is not sustainable.  We will end up with payroll that is so exorbitant…and incompetent people, not getting their job done; or not being held accountable for the jobs we ask them to do.  That is just not acceptable in the modern world.”

Creation of those pesky job descriptions was supposed to be part of SSA’s task last year, not so big a deal given certain of its recommendations never came to pass.  There was a push to codify an organization chart which elicited Matassa’s threat of veto until the Parish Attorney realized a 5-4 vote was insufficient to enact an ordinance.  More urgently, Dr. Slaughter recommended the hiring of qualified department heads, especially over Utilities as the parish operates water plants on the west bank and prepares to tackle sanitary sewer on a grand scale east of the Mississippi.

Ascension has been without a Utilities Director since October 2016 leaving Infrastructure Director William Daniel in charge of just about everything.  Daniel has delivered reports to EA Drainage Board since former Drainage/DPW Director Bill Roux called it a career.

Who could follow Roux?  Apparently, nobody since neither of the directorships he enjoyed have been filled.  All while the ranks of the rank-and-file swelled.

According to Human Resources Director Taleta Wesley the parish has “about 500 employees, or more.”  None of their positions are subject to formalized job descriptions and Wesley’s department lacks the manpower to create the 200 different descriptions.  Reenter SSA Consultants and Dr. Christel Slaughter who declared:

“Ascension Parish employees are not being held accountable for their performance and are not used to having their pay tied to their performance.”

And there’s a lot more of them not being held to account since Matassa took over.  According to the Employee Master List produced by the parish in response to a February 2016 records request Ascension employed 404 individuals.  Pursuant to separate request five months ago that number had risen to 473.  If HR Director Wesley’s math is accurate another 30 or so have been added since March.

Things could be looking up (or down) as Wesley informed the committee that “a large percentage of our leadership” is set to retire in a few years.  “We’re losing a lot of great talent” in Utilities, Department of Public Works, and the Administration.  Of course, without any performance evaluations measuring mastery of non-existent job descriptions you’ll have to take Wesley (on the job since last August) at her word.

Creation of those job descriptions and performance measuring tools will take up the rest of 2018 with implementation beginning in January.  If not “handled correctly” according to Dr. Slaughter, the program has the potential “to create tremendous resistance and deep divisions.”

“I’m disappointed that we have not gotten this done (already),” lamented Councilwoman Casso who worried that some unidentified candidate for parish president might promise to scrap the program in return for electoral support from employees.

Three committee members backed Casso’s play.

District 1 Councilman Oliver Joseph

“We, as the governing authority made a decision,” proclaimed Councilman Oliver Joseph.  “This is the new way.”

District 11 Councilman Benny Johnson

Councilman Benny Johnson attempted to ameliorate the program for parish employees saying it provides…

“A more stable workforce…(not) subject to the whim of one supervisor or a parish president.”

District 10 Councilman John Cagnolatti

A more lukewarm Councilman John Cagnolatti pandered a bit, touting the parishes “good employees” while stressing that parish government must be about providing “services to the people.”

Such high-minded idealism all sounds great.  We are left to wonder why all four of these council members signed…

What did they expect from a Matassa administration?