A heated exchange between Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment and council member Aaron Lawler crescendoed Thursday with a communication breakdown between the two.
At one point during the meeting in Donaldsonville, Lawler interrupted Cointment while in the middle of a sentence.
“I will give no one council member preferential treatment over another…” Cointment said before the interruption.
“Are you going to let me speak?” the parish president asked.
“No, I’m not actually…” Lawler interjected before Cointment began to speak over him.
“Well then, we’re done here,” Cointment said before he turned and walked back to his seat.
“You said only council chairs can request information, is that correct?” Lawler asked.
After the tense moment, council chair Teri James Casso banged her gavel to break up the exchange.
“Gentlemen, please, you need to stop,” Casso said.
At the time, the council had been discussing the addition of a parish council compliance officer position. The officer would work for the 11-member council, and be paid through the council’s budget.
“So how many employees does the council have now?” Cointment asked earlier in the discussion. “I mean, you’re hiring and firing. This is a function for the administration. I’m curious. Are you all now going to have employees working for you and coming out of your budget?”
Casso said the council has three employees already under its direction.
Council member Corey Orgeron said bombarding the parish president with questions from 11 members asking for information makes the job of the parish leader even tougher. He said the addition of a single person could efficiently communicate information with the council.
Michael Mason made a motion to move the matter to the personnel committee. Joel Robert offered a second.
Cointment approached the council again and stressed the transparency of his administration.
“There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, that this administration has withheld from any council chair, or committee chair, who has asked for information pertaining to their committee that has not been received. Nothing. Zero.”
Lawler said some members are not chairs, and should not be regarded as “second-class council members.”
Cointment countered by saying information would be distributed to all members.
Following the tense exchange between the two, Lawler asked Cointment again to answer his question. Lawler then stated he would not interrupt again.
The parish president said procedure must be followed. He said his focus has been through committee chairs since answering all 11 members’ email messages would be “all he does all day.”
Cointment stressed the importance of committees. He said much of the work could be done prior to the meeting, avoiding confusion.
In another matter, the council approved a resolution to establish guidelines for parish government social media.
Lawler opened the discussion by addressing Cointment.
“We have done nothing to censor your communication,” Lawler said. “I’m not sure where this belief is coming from, and you’re welcome to elaborate on it.”
Lawler said the issue arose because the parish Facebook page speaks for all council members and administration.
Cointment stepped up and said “thank you for the clarification. I look forward to submitting the social media policy to the council for your input, and opening back up to communication.”
Orgeron followed by recalling the oath elected officials took.
“I know you and I have had some rocky conditions, but I keep stressing to you, and I think you keep stressing to me as well, we’ve got to get past this campaign stuff. We’ve got to get past these childish things,” Orgeron said.
“It’s time for Ascension Parish to move on and grow up,” he added.
Cointment acknowledged the improvement of their relationship. He said he hopes it continues to improve.
Robert said he felt the council’s time could be better spent on other matters, and that they were “wasting time” talking about social media.
“Let’s move forward. Let’s drop this. Honestly, President Cointment, I don’t see why you’re even entertaining the option to do this,” Robert said.
Cointment said he believes policies are necessary to “clear up confusion” about parish operations.
“You’re 100 percent right. Let’s get past it,” Cointment concluded.