Ascension Parish president no longer taking questions during meetings

Michael Tortorich

Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment announced he would no longer take questions during council meetings.

Council members Chase Melancon, Teri James Casso, and Aaron Lawler are shown following the Ascension Parish Council meeting held April 1 at the courthouse in Donaldsonville.

During the April 1 meeting at the courthouse in Donaldsonville, Cointment said the decision was made due to the administration not always being able to provide adequate and complete information to citizens in real time. 

Instead, he expressed a preference to disseminate information in a more thorough manner.

In past meetings, the president often would take questions from the council following the president's report, a mainstay on the meeting agenda.

Cointment said he reviewed meetings over recent months and found negative and contentious portions stemmed from the casual question-and-answer sessions. He said he decided to no longer field questions due to the negative episodes. 

Council members Aaron Lawler and Teri James Casso both said they did not agree with the decision, but both mentioned they respected his right to decline answering questions.

Casso, who serves as the council chair, said she was disappointed. She has served three terms along with three administrations.

Lawler addressed the issue both during the meeting and later in a statement posted to his Facebook page.

 “When we ask questions, we are not asking for ourselves, we are asking for our constituents,” Lawler said at the courthouse.

Later, in the social media post, he added that the move was “a blow to promised transparency,” which he said he hoped would be reversed in the near future.

Cointment said he and his administration would still provide information when it is asked for, but not during the president’s report portion of meetings.

In the past year, Cointment has faced contentious lines of questioning at times from some council members. These interactions could give the public the impression that the council and the administration are opposed to each other.

Meetings were held virtually through most of the last year. Though in-person meetings are lightly attended, the meetings are broadcast via the Ascension21 television channel, and streamed to the Ascension21 YouTube channel.

In other matters:

— Randy Watts in human resources and Martha Collins in grants both will be retiring.

Cointment said a nationwide search will be conducted to find candidates to fill the open positions.

— The Amite River clean up project will be at 8 a.m. April 10, the president announced.

Locations will be at Fred’s on the River and the St. James Boat Club.

To register, visit the Facebook page at Project River Clean Up.