GONZALES — In a moment of frustration, an Ascension Parish elected official told a colleague to "wipe (his) face" after suggesting he'd knelt before the parish president.
When asked about his provocative word choice, however, Councilman Corey Orgeron denied alluding to oral sex.
Orgeron made the comment in an email to Council Utilities Committee Chairman Chase Melancon, criticizing him for being too willing to follow Parish President Clint Cointment's lead by declining to put something related to a controversial residential sewage inspection issue on the agenda.
"I don't kneel in front of Clint," Orgeron wrote in a May 19 missive to Melancon. "You may want to wipe your face."
In an interview earlier this week, Orgeron — a lawyer, first-term councilman from Prairieville and devout member of St. John the Evangelist Church — defended the retort as entirely appropriate and in no way a sexual innuendo.
Rather, he said, he meant to say that Melancon was too beholden to Cointment and should wipe his face next time he kneels before someone he treats as a "god."
"If you're going to stand before your god and do everything you're little god tells you to do, you'd better be clean," said Orgeron, who contacted The Advocate after learning a records request for his emails was filed Monday.
When pressed on his explanation, he persisted.
"Nah, man," he said. "If I wanted to say something about oral sex, I would have said something about oral sex."
This was hardly the first time an Ascension Parish councilman has let his words get away from him in private. In July 2020, Councilman Joel Robert left an expletive-laden voicemail for the Parish Council secretary. The incident led to his censure by the full council, as well as private and public apologies.
Council Chairwoman Teri Casso said she planned to meet with Orgeron this week, but that get-together was sidetracked by heavy flooding in her district, which includes the Bluff Swamp area outside Dutchtown. She was considering what action to take over Orgeron's comment.
"He knows that he has made a serious mistake here, and that was terribly inappropriate," she said on Friday.
However, Casso drew a distinction between the incident involving Robert and the one involving Orgeron.
Robert's comments, she said, were made to a subordinate parish employee. The comment to Melancon, on the other hand, was "man-to-man, peer-to-peer," Casso reasoned.
"For me, that is a challenge," she said. "I'm going to be very, very, very measured in my response."
Whatever Casso recommends, other council members could pursue their own actions as well.
Orgeron has been a critic, at times, of Cointment's administration and has been among those who have aired frustrations with the way the president has handled various matters, from hiring to transparency.
Melancon has been a more reliable vote for the administration, but also stakes out his own path on some issues.
In an interview Friday, Melancon said Orgeron gave him the same explanation of the "wipe your face" comment. But he declined to say how he perceived Orgeron's remarks initially, or if he accepted that explanation.
"That's between Mr. Orgeron and I," he said. "That's not something I'm going to comment on publicly. Him and I are dealing with our personal stuff internally."
In his email initial response to Orgeron's comment, Melancon didn't appear to catch a possible derogatory reference, asking Orgeron "what (he was) talking about."
In later email a few days later to two other parish officials, however, Melancon wrote that he had spoken with others and aired frustrations over the comment and Orgeron's behavior generally.
That email sent on Sunday had forwarded Orgeron's statement to Cointment, the president, and Casso, the council chair, and attempted to explain the context of it, as well as give Melancon's views that Orgeron's tenure on the council so far has been divisive and unhelpful.
Melancon said he didn't believe Orgeron's interpretation and had tried to contact Orgeron for days about the comment by phone and by visiting his law office.
"He finally contacted me back and explained this (the last email) was a biblical metaphor," Melancon wrote to the president and council chairwoman on Sunday afternoon. "I didn't buy it, but I will allow you to decipher it on your own."
Melancon noted that while the earlier back-and-forth over the agenda was shared among several email recipients — where Orgeron attempted to "demonstrate his moral high ground and the pedestal that he puts himself on" — the "wipe your face" email was part of a later exchange that was sent to him alone.
The records request doesn't show that Cointment responded to Melancon by email, but Casso wrote to Melancon that she didn't "'get' the religious metaphor" that Orgeron said he intended either. She promised to address the comment.
"I understand your disgust," Casso added, "and I will take some time to consider an appropriate response."