GONZALES — A Galvez man who wants to give Ascension Parish residents a say on whether indicted Parish President Kenny Matassa remains in office filed a petition for a recall election Wednesday with the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office.
The filing, confirmed by the state agency, comes on the eve of a still-planned vote on whether the Parish Council should declare it has no confidence in Matassa’s ability to do his job and to ask him to resign immediately in light of his indictment Friday over attempted bribery allegations.
Brennan Howell, 24, of Galvez, said he was concerned about the attempted bribery allegation since recordings of Matassa purportedly making the attempted bribe came to light Aug. 1, as well as other actions by Matassa since he took office.
"I want to give them a voice, the people,” said Howell, who is chairman of the recall.
Howell’s effort faces a significant logistical hurdle. Under state law, the recall effort will need to get one-third of the registered voters in Ascension Parish, or about 25,175, to sign the petition. The recall drive has 180 days, roughly six months, to gather signatures, and then they will have to be verified by the parish Registrar of Voters Office before a recall election could be set.
After months of a slow-moving investigation into the bribery allegations, the new recall petition means there are dueling efforts to have the public and parish leaders weigh in on the embattled parish president, though only a successful recall election could force Matassa from office.
Matassa’s defense attorney, Lewis Unglesby, of Baton Rouge, asked the Parish Council on Tuesday afternoon to delay consideration of the nonbinding resolution because of scheduling conflicts for Unglesby and questions he had about the procedure. The council’s discussion is set to be held behind closed doors, but the council vote must be done in public under state law.
Parish Council Chairman Bill Dawson said Wednesday he does not plan to remove the item from the council’s Thursday agenda. Dawson, who said he spoke with District Attorney Ricky Babin about Unglesby’s request, said it will be up to the full council to decide whether to delay the vote.
Howell said he filed the petition for a recall election on Wednesday because of the recent indictment and news reports this week that the parish president gave his brother David Matassa, director of the parish mosquito control program, a significant raise.
“I wouldn’t want my parish president to be making these types of choices, putting more money in his family’s pocket, while he is fighting to do his job as parish president and fighting this indictment. It doesn’t make sense to me. It does make sense to be part of a good-old-boy system, and that’s why I’m doing (the recall),” Howell said.
Parish officials dispute the pay increase claim, however.
Relying on rosters of parish employees with their titles and salaries, the Pelican Post, an online news website, reported this week that David Matassa received an apparent 20.6 percent salary increase some time between July 8 and March 7, while Kenny Matassa was parish president.
The Advocate filed a public records request this week and obtained the same employee lists for February and July 2016 and March 2017. Those lists do show David Matassa’s annual salary rose from $72,883 on July 8 to $87,921 on March 7, as the Post had reported.
But in a statement Wednesday, Martin McConnell, parish government spokesman, said that despite what the lists say, the parish Human Resources Department actually underreported David Matassa’s salary as $72,883 on employee rosters for Feb. 10 and July 8.
During 2016, David Matassa’s salary was actually much higher than the employee lists show, McConnell said, and the bulk of David Matassa’s prior salary raise came under the previous administration in late 2015.
McConnell said David Matassa actually received a $10,005 pay increase Dec. 7, 2015, while outgoing Parish President Tommy Martinez was still in office. The increase raised David Matassa’s pay from $72,883 to $82,888. At that time, Kenny Matassa, then a top parish health administrator, was parish president-elect, having narrowly won a November runoff election.
McConnell said subsequent cost-of-living adjustments under Kenny Matassa’s administration of 4 percent in 2016 and 2 percent in 2017 brought David Matassa’s salary up to the $87,921 figure that appears in a March 7 roster of parish employees.
David Matassa, through a relative, referred all questions Wednesday to parish government.
Meanwhile, Dawson, council chairman, said he would have no problem with Kenny Matassa bringing witnesses to the planned council discussion on Thursday night, but Unglesby’s questions about subpoenaing witnesses and standards of evidence were not things the chairman said he planned to consider.
Dawson said the council is a legislative body that is scheduled to consider a resolution Thursday. While the talks with Matassa are set to be in closed session, Dawson said, public comment will be allowed on the resolution before the council votes.
Howell, who works in a chemical lab, said he has some volunteers who are willing to help with the recall drive but hopes to garner more support and signatures Thursday night at the council meeting. Colin Nicol, of Gonzales, is listed as the recall vice chairman.