GONZALES — The two candidates headed into Saturday’s runoff for Ascension Parish president say they have plans to address potential nepotism worries and conflicts of interest that could emerge if either is elected parish government’s top executive.
Gonzales City Councilman Kenny Matassa and Gonzales-area businessman Clint Cointment, vying to replace outgoing Parish President Tommy Martinez, have waged a pitched fight for the top job, including on the fundraising front.
From the first full week of October through mid-November, reports show, Matassa raised $20,055 more than Cointment, pulling in $66,132 to Cointment’s $46,077.
Cointment and Matassa both face situations, if elected, that could raise questions under state ethics code prohibitions on nepotism and self-dealing by elected officials.
Matassa’s daughter-in-law and his brother both work for parish government. Cointment owns a land surveying business. For many years, he routinely appeared before the Parish Council-appointed Planning Commission for his clients.
But Cointment said he would shut down his business, Willard J. Cointment Jr. Surveyor, if he is elected. Matassa said he has not and would not supervise his relatives if he is elected, though he contends they can continue to work for parish government.
Under the state ethics code, the immediate family of an agency head, such as an elected parish president, cannot work for that government agency. But the code allows immediate family members who have been employed at least a year before the relative takes office to remain in their jobs.
Kathleen Allen, state ethics administrator, said those employees also can receive normal promotional advancements.
She said the Board of Ethics often advises elected officials who oversee their immediate family to develop a plan of disqualification to avoid potential conflicts and advises the related employees to seek advisory opinions from the Board of Ethics on specific issues.
Matassa, who has worked for parish government for 22 years, noted his daughter-in-law, Candyse Matassa, and his brother, David Matassa, have worked for the parish more than a year.
Candyse Matassa, a health educator, has worked for the parish since October 2010, according to parish records.
The then-Candyse Robinson was hired nearly two years before she married Tony Matassa, one of Kenny Matassa’s sons, marriage records show.
David Matassa, who is the parish mosquito control manager, has worked for parish government since December 1997, according to public records with the parish.
Candyse Matassa and David Matassa both ultimately report to Kenny Matassa. As parish administrator, he supervises about 50 to 60 employees, including those in animal and mosquito control, and leads the Health Unit, where Candyse Matassa works. But neither relative has Kenny Matassa as a direct supervisor.
Matassa said he plans to keep himself separate from overseeing his relatives if elected.
In Cointment’s case, his surveying business often has brought him in contact with parish government for his clients, such as landowners, but the ethics code prohibits an elected official from being compensated for helping someone with business involving the official’s agency.
One of Cointment’s leading campaign contributors and a personal friend, James Falgout, is also a surveyor. He has been handling Cointment’s clients during the campaign, Cointment said.
Falgout’s own surveying business, Earles and Associates, has had parish government contracts at least since 2012 under the Martinez administration, according to parish records.
Since 2013, the contracts have been worth up to $49,999 annually. The 2012 contract was worth up to $20,000, the records show.
As parish president, Cointment or his administration would have the power to distribute similarly valued contracts. Anything of greater value, $50,000 or more, would need Parish Council backing.
But Cointment said if he is elected, his business would cease and his clients would be free to hire whomever they want.
The ethics code bars gifts and gratuities to public officials from those who seek government contracts, but Allen, the ethics administrator, said the code has an exception for campaign contributions.
She added state campaign finance law also does not prohibit someone who has a contract with a government agency from making a campaign contribution to an elected official who oversees that agency.