Consultant reviews Ascension Parish public works effectiveness

Michael Tortorich

The Ascension Parish Council received an update Jan. 21 from Christel Slaughter of SSA Consultants concerning a study of the parish government’s public works department.

MUG: Christel Slaughter, CEO of SSA Consultants, updated the Ascension Parish Council on a study of the public works department.

SSA Consultants, an organizational development and management consulting firm based in Baton Rouge, has been working with parish government since 2016. Slaughter serves as CEO.

During the teleconference council meeting, the consultant reported the findings after conducting more than 50 interviews with DPW staff members. Slaughter said she attended supervisor meetings, two focus groups, a leadership retreat, and a survey was given to all employees.

She reported the survey response rate was 90 percent for DPW and transportation employees.

“That’s an amazing response rate. There are amazing comments there. Not everybody’s happy, but a lot really enjoy serving the citizens of Ascension Parish,” Slaughter told the council.

She said one department head expressed a desire for parish government to be known for a quality culture like the parish’s sheriff’s office and school system.

Council Chair Teri James Casso said she has waited for years for the kind of information and action brought forth by the consultants. 

Council members expressed interest in a retreat of its own. Aaron Lawler said he would like to implement a time-bound action plan.

According to Slaughter, research shows a large organization takes around five to seven years to adjust its culture.

“And you’ve got to stay with it. All along the way, you’ve got to build up the processes, knowledge, and capacity of everybody at every level,” Slaughter said. 

In gauging DPW morale, consultants found some questioned the process of disciplining employees and the route to advancement within the parish.

Slaughter also said many employees have accumulated leave time, causing staffing issues. According to Slaughter, building up leave time is a common problem with local governments.

Workers also reported the lack of preventative maintenance on parish equipment. Some said they would like to learn how to use certain equipment.

Joel Robert proposed the idea of a commons area for parish employees to build rapport and enjoy camaraderie. 

In another matter before the council:

-- The parish continued its partnership with Ochsner Health System to bring coronavirus testing to the Lemann Memorial Center Jan. 20 and 21.

A total of 69 people were tested both days, according to Parish President Clint Cointment.

The National Guard has been assisting with testing at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

As of last week, the percent positivity rate fell from 18.5 to 14.8, he said.

Additionally, Cointment added that the parish had eight vaccine locations. He said more than 26 locations have requested approval to be a vaccine site.

Cointment gave credit to Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Rachael Wilkinson, Executive Administrator Ruth Phillips, and the health department staff for their assistance.