The Ascension Parish Council and Parish President Clint Cointment have ended their running battle over who calls the shots on flood prevention, but a public shouting match between council members and constituents shows the political temperature is still high.
A public meeting Monday night started with laughs and talking together. The council agreed to reverse its decision to remove Cointment as drainage director, a decision that had caused a fierce backlash from some residents — some of whom have launched recall campaigns against six council members.
The vote was intended to end a rough patch in the past several months between Cointment and a council majority. Both sides said the new arrangement would improve their relationship and the efficiency of flood-fighting efforts in the parish.
But tensions began to rise as the board considered the agreement. Councilman Joel Robert called the actions a "dog-and-pony show" and a waste of time. He also criticized that the deal was packaged with plans to hire former longtime drainage director and public works official Bill Roux as a liaison for the drainage panel.
Can't see the video below? Click here to watch the video on Youtube. This conversation starts around the 1 hour, 15 minute mark.
Robert asserted the Cointment administration in two years had done more for parish drainage than Roux in his nearly two decades with the parish.
"Come on, be respectful," Drainage Chairman Dempsey Lambert shot back to Robert, challenging his assertions.
"I'm being very respectful," Robert responded.
"No, you're not," Lambert said. "Be respectful," he insisted.
"They have done more projects than Bill Roux has done for this parish. That's a fact, chairman," Robert insisted.
"And that's a lie," Lambert said.
"Be respectful, chairman," Robert responded.
"No, you be respectful," Lambert said, staring at Robert over his glasses and pointing at him.
Several residents who are behind an effort to recall council members were in attendance. They criticized the council for initially voting to remove Cointment as drainage director.
They sparred with Councilman Corey Orgeron, criticizing his behavior on the council; Orgeron responded by insulting them and railing against their "stupidity on the internet."
"Hey, shut up," Robert shouted at Orgeron, slamming his hand on the counter over the "stupidity" comment.
"What?" Orgeron asked indignantly, as he stood up and turned to face Robert, who sat two seats over from Orgeron.
"Shut up," Robert insisted again from his seat as Orgeron closed in.
"I am not shutting up," Orgeron said, pointing aggressively at Robert. "You are not going to challenge me."
"Yes, you will," parish resident Catrina Bonomolo chimed in and shouted at Orgeron from the audience amid the chaos, seconding Robert's sentiment.
A sheriff’s deputy quickly intervened with Orgeron as other members urged him to be calm. Council members dispersed during the brief recess into their antechamber and out of public view.
As Orgeron was walking out with other members, Bonomolo shouted at Orgeron: "Very unacceptable. You need to leave."
"Go eat another Twinkie," Orgeron fired back as he left the chambers.
See video of 'Twinkie' exchange: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eV9UB8WNE2g.
Robert opposed the new deal with Cointment, but it passed anyway, along with other procedural measures.
A vote on $50,000-per-year liaison job for Roux was deferred for three weeks so members could hash out the details of the role.
A veteran of Ascension drainage work, Roux was responsible for major pump additions to the critical Marvin J. Braud Pumping station and led several prominent projects to dredge canals and build levees.
But he’s been criticized for projects some residents and council members have seen as wasteful. And some residents have criticized him after flooding events for letting ditches and canals go without maintenance.
Before Orgeron's clash with Robert, he also sparred with residents in the mostly empty council chambers.
Orgeron had been telling those residents that their Facebook commentary and memes, a recent protest at the parish courthouse, and other steps had had no effect on the compromise members were considering, saying the residents' egos "are writing checks your butts can't cash because that's not what happened here."
"That's enough," parish resident Katheryne Delatte responded, standing up and speaking out of order.
Orgeron told Delatte to sit down.
"You do not talk to the voters that a-way," Delatte responded.
"I. Just. Did," Orgeron said with emphasis, as Chairman Lambert hammered his gavel for order. "I just did."
"You can be as disrespectful as you want to us. I will respond," Orgeron added.
Lambert urged Orgeron, who had also been accused of being a liar by another resident, "to let it go," but Orgeron continued, briefly and mistakenly taking a third resident's comment as a physical threat and eventually getting into the near-physical confrontation with Robert.
"No, I'm not finished though," Orgeron said. "I am not finished."