GONZALES — After hearing from residents who for nearly 40 minutes Thursday night expressed divided opinions on the no-confidence vote issue, an equally divided Ascension Parish Council voted 6-4 to declare the body no longer has confidence in Parish President Kenny Matassa's ability to lead in light of his recent indictment and asked him to resign immediately.
During the public comments, Matassa’s family and supporters, including his son, Nicholas Matassa, who was burned in a plant fire during his dad’s 2015 campaign for parish president, stressed the president’s tireless and often unseen work to help parish residents.
Those who wanted the Parish Council to call for the parish president to resign argued those good works are not the point because Kenny Matassa’s indictment brought shame on the parish.
An Ascension Parish grand jury indicted Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot on March 10 over attempted bribery allegations.
The men are each charged with one count of offering something of value to have A. Wayne Lawson, a candidate for Gonzales City Council, withdraw from the Nov. 8 election.
GONZALES — Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot …
The Parish Council took its vote Thursday without any further commentary and without going into an anticipated closed session to discuss Matassa’s professional character and competence, as the council agenda had anticipated.
Asked later why the council did that, Councilman Randy Clouatre, who has worked closely with Matassa as a former council chairman, offered this answer:
“Figured everything was said,” Clouatre said as he began to walk down the Parish Courthouse Annex staircase after the meeting.
Clouatre is among the six who voted for the resolution. Also voting yes were current Council Chairman Bill Dawson and council members Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, Aaron Lawler, Teri Casso and John Cagnolatti.
Those voting against were Council Vice-Chairman Oliver Joseph and council members Travis Turner, Dempsey Lambert and Todd Lambert.
Councilman Benny Johnson was absent.
What effect the symbolic but nonbinding rebuke of the sitting president, who won office in 2015 in a narrow runoff election, remained unclear Thursday as Matassa has maintained his innocence and has shown no signs of stepping down.
Kyle Gautreau, Matassa’s chief of staff, said after the vote that he expects his boss will be back at work Friday.
Matassa sat through a lengthy council meeting before the no-confidence resolution came up. He read proclamations of recognition and informed the council about plans for continued debris removal after the flood. He and some council members who would end up voting for him to resign even took pictures with Boy Scouts who led the Pledge of Allegiance to open the meeting and stayed to listen for a citizenship badge.
But Matassa left the chambers as commentary began on the no confidence resolution.
His son, Nicholas Matassa, gave an at times emotional speech in which he said his dad told him he was going to halt his run for president after Nick had been burned in the fall of 2015. But Nicholas Matassa said he told his father to keep going because he knew it was his dad’s life-long dream.
Nicholas Matassa said his father, Matassa, a former five-term Gonzales City Councilman and parish administrator, now eats and sleeps parish government.
“My dad is a Christian. He would give the shirt off his back to anybody. There’s not a better person for this job, and I’m very proud to call him my father,” Nicholas Matassa said.
Other pro-Kenny Matassa speakers asked critics if they were without fault. Among them was former Parish Councilman Alvin “Coach’ Thomas Jr., who was convicted more than decade ago for taking a bribe and stepped down from office.
"Who is he to judge and to cast the first stone," Thomas asked. "Each of us here tonight has something that had happened that you’re not so proud of.”
Thomas added: “I’ve been knowing Kenny for a long time. …He’s someone that has taken care of the people.”
But critics of Matassa said the issue is not about his good works or criticizing the man himself but how the indictment affects his ability to lead the parish.
“It doesn’t matter what goes on behind closed doors,” said Jean Lavidalie, a lawyer from Gonzales. “People in government are to be held to a higher standard because they should be an example. There should be no corruption. There has to be transparency in government.”
Brennan Howell, who filed a recall petition against Matassa on Wednesday, told the council that the parish needs someone “to lead us, not bribe us.”
An indictment is merely a formal charge and is not an indication of guilt. That would be determined at trial.
GONZALES — A Galvez man who wants to give Ascension Parish residents a say on whether indict…
After Kenny Matassa’s wife, Selma, took issue with claims that her husband is corrupt, Al Robert, co-chair of the parish’s Republican Executive Committee, said the committee voted unanimously to call for Kenny Matassa to resign.
“I love Kenny, Selma, his family and his parents," Robert said. "It’s about the office of the parish president. That’s what we’re here about."
Some council members said they had received threats in connection with the vote. Councilman Todd Lambert said he received calls threatening him with a future election opponent if he did not vote to call for Matassa to resign.
Lambert, who had considered voting for the resolution, said those threats and the words from Nicholas Matassa swayed his vote against the resolution.
Satterlee, who has pushed for the no-confidence vote since August, said he was threatened by an unnamed person after the vote and was escorted with his wife to their car after the meeting ended.
Matassa and Berthelot, who are each out on $5,000 bail, face a felony charge that could result in a sentence of two years in state prison and/or a $2,000 fine if convicted. Both men have proclaimed their innocence.
Matassa’s defense attorney, Lewis Unglesby, has claimed the indictment is part of political prosecution ginned up by Matassa’s opponents.