GONZALES — A delegation of the Ascension Parish Council plans to meet Sunday with Parish President Clint Cointment and his staff on a possible comprise over the management of drainage for Prairieville, Dutchtown, Gonzales and other areas covering 90% of the parish’s populace, a top official said.
Five of the six council members who backed a contentious decision to remove Cointment as chief executive officer of the East Ascension drainage district announced on Friday their willingness to compromise while also defending their actions last month.
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Six of 10 East Ascension drainage board members — the panel is entirely made up of councilors — voted to remove Cointment on June 28. They also voted to hire former top drainage official Bill Roux as the interim CEO and to search for a permanent professional, arguing the parish needed to switch to an apolitical drainage manager with the technical skills and undivided attention that elected presidents haven’t had.
Critics on the drainage board and in the public argued the move was, in fact, a political one aimed at the president, undercutting one of the central reasons that voters picked him in 2019 to lead the parish. The drainage district is a separate entity from parish government, and Cointment and parish workers had operated it by agreement.
Sharp rains in May that flooded more than 160 homes in Ascension and stranded homeowners in Bluff Swamp for weeks have heightened running concerns over growth in Ascension, prompting a push by Cointment to seek a development moratorium and to take swift, but less vetted actions to reduce flood water.
The joint statement from the drainage board members who removed Cointment and took the other related actions defended them as being “made with the best interests of the citizens of our growing parish in mind.”
“We believe — and have heard from many of our constituents — that the system in place did not produce consistent drainage maintenance, nor did it effectively advance strategic, long-term planning and execution of drainage projects to protect the people and property of Ascension Parish,” joint statement says.
Council members John Cagnolatti, Teri Casso, Dempsey Lambert, Aaron Lawler and Corey Orgeron made the statement.
Councilman Dal Waguespack, the sixth vote to oust Cointment, was not part of the statement. He did not return a call for comment Friday.
Members of the Ascension Parish Council voted during a tense meeting Monday night to remove Parish President Clint Cointment as administrator …
The joint statement comes just days before a planned community meeting, also on Sunday, in which advocates say they plan to gauge support for recall efforts against the members who backed removal of Cointment or who also had argued for less than the 12-month moratorium on new development that Cointment had advocated.
The council adopted a nine-month moratorium to try to tighten drainage and other development rules. All of the council members who voted out Cointment were also in the nine-person majority that favored the shorter moratorium.
When asked on Friday, Casso, the council chairwoman, said the joint statement wasn’t, for her, an attempt to quell a recall but to find a middle ground. Casso declined to say what she and her council colleagues might offer Sunday, at least until after meeting with Cointment.
Based on the statement, it’s not clear how easily the group would agree to reinstall Cointment, an elected official, to day-to-day drainage management. The statement emphasized the need to balance immediate maintenance needs with longer term planning based on science, not a “political model resulting in priorities that change with election cycles.”
Cointment did not respond to a text for comment on Friday but has similarly aired his desire to work with the council members on the drainage board.
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Councilman Michael Mason, who opposed removal of Cointment and a shorter moratorium, said he wanted to see more.
“I am glad to see that these members of East Ascension Drainage are open and willing to have a discussion about reaching a compromise,“ Mason wrote in a text message. "As an opponent of their current proposed plan, I eagerly await to see what the proposed compromise will be.“
Casso said the meeting with Cointment would not have a quorum council members who would make the gathering public. A quorum, or majority, of the Parish Council or the drainage board is six.
Open meetings law bars private meetings with a majority of the members of a government body present in all but some limited instances.
Below is the full statement from board members John Cagnolatti, Teri Casso, Dempsey Lambert, Aaron Lawler and Corey Orgeron.
“The changes approved at last month’s East Ascension Drainage District’s meeting were made with the best interests of the citizens of our growing parish in mind. We believe – and have heard from many of our constituents – that the system in place did not produce consistent drainage maintenance, nor did it effectively advance strategic, long-term planning and execution of drainage projects to protect the people and property of Ascension Parish.
We continue to hear from residents on all sides of this important issue – and we are taking action. We pledge to work with the Parish President towards a compromise that will result in improved efficiency and long-term policies that are sustainable, science-based solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s issues.
Both short and long-term maintenance plans must be a priority and address concerns of residents and businesses across the parish. At the same time, we must broaden our focus to include planning and engineering work for much-needed improvements that allow us to be flexible in anticipating and responding to the needs of the parish. These improvements will continue to benefit future generations.
It is time for East Ascension Drainage to move away from this political model resulting in priorities that change with election cycles. This outdated effort has not served us well and has not kept up with the growth of the Parish. To be successful, science must drive our efforts.
Change is hard and our citizens are right to demand better. We believe that, after moving away from this outdated model, you will see the positive results you deserve.“