Turner blasts Matassa’s hiring of Recreation Director; “a Dog and Pony Show”

Recreation Chairman Travis Turner

President Kenny Matassa’s administration hired a new Recreation Director, filling the position which has been vacant for a year since Brandon Berthelot was fired after a failed drug test. Berthelot’s hire was political patronage at its most overt as Matassa paid back a favor to his bribery co-defendant, the disgraced former Recreation Department head’s father, Olin Berthelot. According to Councilman Travis Turner, who chairs the Ascension’s Council Recreation Committee, the hire of Billy (B. J.) Romano is more of the same.

“Personally, I was wondering how he even got an interview,” Turner said of the session he attended along with a second member of the committee, Councilman Aaron Lawler.  “When you come to an interview like that (dressed in “shorts and polo shirt”) you know something that I don’t know.  You already have this position; it’s set already and we’re just going through a dog and pony show.”

Also present for the interview of three applicants, according to Turner, were President Matassa, Facilities Director Thomas “Moose” Pearce, CAO Ken Dawson, and SSA Consultants’ Dr. Christel Slaughter.

“I’ll go ahead and just say it,” Turner began.  “Me and Mr. Lawler were in the interview process.  The individual that is hired was the least qualified.  We had this report that was done by SSA and we just feel that, having that done by SSA doesn’t make sense if we’re gonna hire the least qualified person.  He’s just not qualified for the position.  If it’s somebody who’s going to require a great deal of help, a great deal of propping up, he shouldn’t be hired for that position.”

One of President Matassa’s first hires after taking office in January of 2016 was his co-defendant’s son…

Olin Berthelot (foreground) with his son, Brandon,.

And it was an embarrassment for his administration.  Brandon Berthelot was fired within weeks after bribery allegations surfaced involving his father and the parish president.  Olin Berthelot can be heard discussing his son’s hiring, the most political of patronage  dispensation, on what has come to be called “the Matassa Tapes, #1.” He and Matassa can also be heard discussing Travis Turner’s future ascension to his father’s seat on the 23rd Judicial District Court, Division E bench, for what that’s worth.

“It’s almost the same reason the administration stays in the paper now,” Councilman Turner opined of Romano’s “political appointment…It will reflect badly on the parish.”

Councilman Todd Lambert conceded Turner’s point but, “since they hired him already,” did not want “to get ourselves in a bind” legally.  At one point Lambert appeared to receive a text message before stating the Parish Council can undo the hiring by two-thirds vote.  Lambert has served on the Council for 18 years without, apparently, reading Section 4-09 of Ascension’s Home Rule Charter:

“The governing authority may remove department heads by a favorable vote of at least two-thirds of its members.”

There was no item on Thursday’s agenda related to the hiring and the discussion ensued only after Aaron Lawler moved for a resolution to “re-open the hiring of the Recreation Director.”  Lawler “share(d) some of Travis’ sentiments” but tempered his criticism.  Lawler, recognizing the lack of funding dedicated for recreation, stressed the need for a Recreation Director with marketing and fundraising experience.

Two rejected applicants, Ron Patrick Alcorn and Tommy Krysan according to sources within Matassa’s administration, were more qualified than Romano in those areas important to Lawler. Alcorn is an Assumption Parish Police Juror whose experience includes four years as Recreation Director for the City of Thibodaux and a brief stint in New Orleans recreation department.  Krysan, a local sportscaster, was Recreation Director for the City of Covington a few decades ago and was an Associate Athletic Director at Southeastern Louisiana University in the early 2000s.

They were passed over for Romano who works for Ascension Parish School Board maintaining athletic fields.  Romano has a long history of participation in parish recreation and is paid $250 per week by Ascension as Youth Softball President/Coordinator.

No one from the administration offered comment, not on the new Recreation Director hiring anyway.

Interim Director Ricky DeArmond did request $229,000 for the purchase of 2.12 acres in Donaldsonville contiguous to Louisiana Fairgrounds which the parish purchased a few years ago.  According to the Interim Director the acreage will be devoted to soccer/youth football fields.  The committee made a recommendation to the Finance Committee that the purchase be made from the Recreation General Fund.