Ascension Parish Council discusses moving communications funds to recreation

Michael Tortorich
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
In a file photo, Ascension Parish Council Chair John Cagnolatti, right, is shown with Councilman Dempsey Lambert during a June meeting at the courthouse in Donaldsonville.

The Ascension Parish Council and Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment debated an amendment to move funds from the communications budget to recreation during the Nov. 17 meeting held in Gonzales.

Councilman Aaron Lawler proposed transferring $325,000 from the communications department budget into recreation.

"Our communications budget has ballooned," said Lawler, whose district is in the Prairieville area. "It has really gotten much larger in the past two to three years than what it was before."

He questioned if the communications department budget was necessary considering the parish's recreation needs.

"We don't need to take pictures of it all. People know that we're doing drainage work. People know that we're doing transportation work. I'd rather put the money into action. Not in communication. I think the action is recreation," Lawler said.

He added all of the parks throughout the parish have needs that should be addressed.

"I'm just overwhelmed by the number of shootings and crimes that I'm seeing by kids, by young adults," Lawler said. "We have an opportunity to do more, and we are doing more already. We are putting more into programs. On the east and west side, we can do more programs. We can buy more equipment to get kids off the street and get them involved in things."

Ascension Parish President Clint Cointment is shown in a file photo.

The parish president responded by saying he was against the amendment.

"People don't know what we do," Cointment said. "It is our job to be transparent. That happens through our communications department. We have a lot of programs that go on every day, and it's not showcased. I think we've done a better job of showcasing what we're doing. It's not always visible. People don't know we're doing drainage projects. They don't know what road projects we do. They don't know what recreation projects we do. That transparency that we all preach all the time - it comes out of that communications department."

He suggested there are other places to find funds for recreation.

"We can take it out of the general fund when the windfall comes from all the economic development coming," Cointment said.

Chief Financial Officer Patrick Goldsmith said there are plenty of other sources that can be tapped for the recreation funds.

"It's going to take away from us showcasing what we do and what our employees do every day," Cointment said. "I'm going to say that's a negative because we pride ourselves on the hard work we do."

The president also pointed out he anticipates spending millions from the American Rescue Plan money.

"What I would offer: I'd love to sit down and start looking at these other sources," Goldsmith said. "We are thinking and we are trying to plan on this."

Councilman Chase Melancon said as a millennial he has found parish government has been exceptional in utilizing social media platforms to show constituents what's going on in Ascension.

"I get told a lot that people like that we post videos of what we do," said Melancon, whose district is in the St. Amant area. "When they're not in St. Amant they can see the videos if they're in Prairieville. Personally, I'm all for more recreation money, but I'm going to have to pass on that tonight, especially not in writing and hearing it for the first time."

In a file photo, the Ascension Parish Council's Aaron Lawler, center, is shown with Dempsey Lambert and Teri Casso during a meeting.

Lawler continued to question communications spending, including sending three employees for an editing conference.

"We spend a lot of time just taking pictures of things," Lawler said. "To be frank with it, this communications budget is about getting reelected. Hey, let's show everybody what we're doing. I'd rather show people that we're doing things and building things and getting things done. It's easy to post things on Facebook. It doesn't take a million dollars to do that. This budget has gone up dramatically over the past two and a half years."

Lawler went on to emphasize the needs of the parks around the parish.

"Transparency? That's a bunch of baloney. We're transparent. They can see everything they want. Putting a picture of us at a banquet isn't being transparent. That just shows that we're going to get a free meal somewhere. I'd rather put the money into recreation. I stand by my amendment," Lawler said.

The amended motion ultimately failed as six council members voted against it. Lawler, Alvin "Coach" Thomas, and Dal Waguespack voted in favor. Corey Orgeron and Michael Mason were absent.

The council then approved the original ordinance in an 8-1 vote, as Lawler voted against.

Gonzales Weekly Citizen and Donaldsonville Chief, part of the USA Today Network of Louisiana, cover Ascension Parish and the greater Baton Rouge area. Follow at facebook.com/WeeklyCitizen and facebook.com/DonaldsonvilleChief.