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Ascension Parish Council’s Joel Robert agrees to censure for angry voicemail

Michael Tortorich

Ascension Parish Council member Joel Robert agreed to his own censure and offered an apology to Council Secretary Cinnamon McKey for leaving an expletive-filled voicemail on her phone.

Ascension Parish Council member Joel Robert gestures to offer an apology for an angry voicemail left for Council Secretary Cinnamon McKey.

During the Aug. 6 teleconference meeting, Robert provided a second to fellow Council member Corey Orgeron’s motion to publicly censure. There was no objection from the other members.

Travis Turner, who filled in as Chair for Teri James Casso, was moving on with the agenda when Robert waved his hand to be acknowledged.

“I just wanted to publicly say, ‘Cinnamon, I am, from the bottom of my heart, sorry. It will never happen again. It was inappropriate,’” Robert said in a humble tone.

McKey was visible in a parish government building during the live-streamed meeting, while Robert appeared to be at a residence.

An audio recording of the voice message surfaced after a July 27 meeting. Robert was frustrated about a letter he wanted read during the meeting, which was convened for the sole purpose of deciding an appeal of a denied subdivision plan. 

The letter was not read during the meeting, and the only reference made to Robert at the time was to acknowledge his absence due to being on vacation.

The council upheld the denial of the subdivision preliminary plat as a 6-4 vote fell short of the necessary supermajority.

Originally known as Antebellum Pointe, the 237-lot subdivision proposal was referred to as Delaune Estates during the meeting last month. The proposed location is about a mile from Interstate 10 along Hwy. 73 at White Road.

It was previously reported that Robert apologized personally to McKey, and wrote a letter to her family.

Robert is serving his first term for District 2, which includes part of Donaldsonville and the area around Pelican Point, south of Gonzales. 

In other matters before the council:

-- Chief Administrative Officer John Diez delivered the Parish President’s report, telling the Council about the parish Homeland Security office’s delivery of 66,000 disposable masks, 26,000 cloth masks, and 100 thermometers to local schools.

Additionally, he said parish leaders recently met with the state Department of Transportation and Development concerning the Hwy. 621, Hwy. 73, and Interstate 10 corridor.

“As we all know, nothing in government related to road construction happens fast,” Diez said. “The conversation was initiated by DOTD, which is a good sign. At least we take it as a good sign.”

He said they are looking into possible interstate interchanges in the parish, and a potential connector road between Hwy. 73 and Bluff Road.

-- Leadership Ascension, a program of the Ascension Chamber of Commerce, has been transforming a baseball field into an all-abilities athletic facility in Gonzales.

The “Team of Dreams” project has been spearheaded by volunteers, and has reached Phase 2. 

Council member John Cagnolatti proposed a $35,000 donation with a dollar-for-dollar match for additional funds raised, not to exceed another $35,000.

Council member Aaron Lawler said the facility could be used for more than just baseball and softball, but for flag football, soccer, and lacrosse as well.

“Why limit it to two sports when we have the opportunity to expand to multiple sports?” Lawler asked.

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

The consultants are planning workshops, going over policies, efficiencies in parish departments, accountability, and the rewarding of current employees. This includes looking into policies of other parishes and counties.

Diez said substantial change has to come from department heads.

“It will be a lot more collaboration,” he told the council.

President Clint Cointment called it a “deeper dive” into employee morale, efficiency, and productivity. He expects the council to be a part of the workshops.

-- Later in the meeting, Orgeron took issue with the parish government’s hiring practices.

“We hire someone, then create a description that matches their qualifications,” Orgeron said. “We’re about to spend $250,000 with SSA Consultants, and they’re going to tell us that’s not the way to do it.”

He clarified he was not questioning the Director of Technology in particular, but was concerned about best practices.

“It’s not about the individual, it’s about the process,” Orgeron said.

Cointment’s administration has repeatedly assured transparency since taking office.

“I see no emails saying you haven’t received anything in the past couple of months,” Coinment said. “So, for you to bring this up in a public meeting, and stress to the public that I’m withholding information, yeah, I’m going to kind of take that personal, because I’m not.”

-- The public hearing on the 2020 millages was moved to the Aug. 20 meeting.