Kenny Matassa

The Ascension Parish Council is slated Thursday night to meet in closed session as members discuss the recent indictment of Parish President Kenny Matassa and whether they should ask him to resign immediately.

The Ascension Parish grand jury on Friday indicted Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot on counts of offering something of value in late July to get a candidate for Gonzales City Council to drop out of the race.

Council Chairman Bill Dawson said Thursday afternoon that members have been advised by their legal counsel that they should give Matassa the option of whether to have the discussion, though not the vote, in a closed session or in public. 

Though Matassa is an elected official who cannot be fired by the council, Dawson said the parish is essentially treating their "no confidence" resolution discussion as it would a disciplinary appeal for a parish employee.

"If an employee comes up for some type of disciplinary action or some discussion of character or what have you, you give them opportunity to have it considered in executive session. We're providing that same opportunity to Mr. Matassa," Dawson said.

Dawson added that there has been some discussions among parish officials about how deeply to delve into the allegations raised against Matassa with a prosecution now pending. 

He has said Matassa has asked for a closed session. The vote will be in public and Dawson said he plans to allow public comment. 

Parish officials have said Matassa will attend Thursday's meeting. His attorney, Lewis Unglesby, has asked the Council to delay the discussion and vote, saying he has a scheduling conflict. 

But, on social media, some parish residents have been questioning why the parish is taking this approach when council members in Jefferson and Lafourche parishes have not had closed-door discussions about their parish leaders' troubles.

Scott Sternberg, legal counsel for the Louisiana Press Association who also does work for The Advocate, said the decision to have the council discussion in closed session is an option the Parish Council has, not Matassa.

He noted the open meetings law says the council "may" meet in executive session to discuss the character or professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person. Sternberg said the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has found that that kind of permissive law does not equate into a requirement.

"It basically says that, just because the law says you can have an executive session, doesn't mean you have to," Sternberg said.

He added that the council could even choose to have the discussions in open session over Matassa's objections.

"That fact that he wants it closed doesn't mean a group of people can't get together and talk about his indictment," Sternberg said. 

Sternberg said he believes the spirit of the law on executive sessions for the discussion of professional competency or character is focused on employees, but the actual language of the law is "a person" and could be applied to an elected official like Matassa.

Sternberg concluded the council is within its rights to hold a closed session to discuss Matassa.

Parish Attorney O'Neil Parenton Jr. advised the Parish Council in August, when the council was considering adding a similar measure to the agenda, that the council would have to meet in closed session to discuss character or competency unless the person had advance notice and agreed to an open meeting.

In Jefferson Parish, council members voted on a no confidence resolution in October, about three weeks after WWL-TV first reported on a sexting scandal involving Parish President Mike Yenni and a teenager. Yenni by then had aired a television commercial signaling his intent to remain in office and his hope to redeem himself in the eyes of voters.

That council adopted the resolution, however, without comment and has largely avoided public commentary on the allegations, though the council has allowed comments from the public.

The Lafourche Parish Council held a special public meeting Feb. 2 to discuss and vote on a "no confidence" measure against Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle, the Lafourche Gazette reported. According to the newspaper, Cantrelle and his aides were not present for the meeting.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.