Sunny Edwards & Lonnie Vicknier are only two people but they are voicing the frustrations for many in Ascension Parish.
“It’s sickening to watch the water rise on your property and not know if it’s going to stop or not and where we live at, it doesn’t rise till after it stops raining,” said Vicknier.
It’s why a historic move is underway in Ascension with recall efforts for six council members all at once….three of which have already been filed with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office.
Per the parish rules, the council members also serve as the East Ascension Drainage District board members.
The six members Ascension residents say they want out of office are: Dempsey Lambert, Teri Casso, Corey Orgeron, Aaron Lawler, Dal Waguespack and John Cagnolatti.
What sent majority of people in Ascension over the edge was a move at the June meeting where those six members voted to remove the current drainage board director, Clint Cointment, who is also the Ascension Parish president, and named Bill Roux as the interim director.
“These councilmen, acting as the drainage board have taken the most knowledgeable drainage person we in this parish and trying to take him off drainage and people are flooding and he was getting things done and he beloved in this parish because he is getting things done in the parish,” said Denise Marchand Drago with the Recall Corey Orgeron Group.
To make matters worse, we’re told that the chair of the drainage district, Dempsey Lambert, promised answers to all questions at the July 12th meeting. However, because there weren’t enough members present, there wasn’t a quorum to even have a meeting, something people in Ascension say was done on purpose to avoid questions.
“You would have to ask the four council members that weren’t there that day. I was there. I don’t know what the other ones were doing at that time, but that’s ludicrous to think that wasn’t intentionally a quorum,” said Lawler in an interview by phone.
KIRAN: What about that the meeting in June when a lot of people were pretty upset that the parish president had been removed and there were a lot of questions that you and one more councilmember had said that all questions will be answered at the July meeting but then there was no quorum for anybody to ask questions and get answers.
LAWLER: Well, I mean it’s unfortunate that other councilmembers weren’t able to show up and like I said, I don’t know why they couldn’t show up at the July meeting. But I know a lot of the questions were about some of the contracts that entered into and right now, those would almost be mute questions because we are working to, I say we, I’m working to try and reach a compromise with the parish president on a lot of these drainage issues that would kind of make those questions mute at this point.
Because that July 12th meeting was a packed room, they did go ahead and allow the public comment section, meaning anyone who filled out a red card. Prior to the meeting started, there were people filling out those red cards anywhere they found a spot.
“We the people of Ascension Parish are fed up. We’re fed up with the politics going on up here. They’re not listening to us. They’re not hearing what we have to say. They’re not really paying attention. They don’t care because they’ve got their mind make up when they come into this council room. They let us stand up there and talk but it just goes in one side and comes out the other,” said Edwards.
“Where’s the help? Where’s the concern? Why don’t they come to these neighborhoods that flood and talk to the residents. I’ve yet to see my councilman. I voted for this guy because he was a new guy, stepped up but I think I wasted my vote,” said Vicknier.
Vicknier moved to Gonzales to be closer to his children and grandchildren but after flooding three times, he said he and his wife have simply had enough.
“Born and raised in Reserve, lived in the same neighborhood all my life, left a lot of family and friends behind but I came here to be with my kids and grandkids and now we thinking about moving somewhere where it’s not flooding,” said Vicknier. “To watch her fear every night it rains wondering is this going to be the night, will it stop before it gets to us or will it get us and it’s sickening it’s a sickening feeling. It’s disturbing. It’s something you can’t explain until it happens to you.”
And that was a question posed to the few councilmembers if any of them had ever flooded.
“Give the people some help in this parish. Talk to the people. Learn to know your constituents, the people that voted for you are the people you should care about, not big industry,” said Vicknier.
He’s referring to the construction and development industries. Due to so many people flooding repeatedly, like Vicknier, the parish president suggested a 12 month moratorium to figure out and fix the current infrastructure before adding more development.
“They’re wanting to build and build and build and they’re leaving the infrastructure all alone, like it is. You can’t do that. We got to have drainage. We’ve had this flooding for too long,” said Edwards. “I lost 50 years of photographs that I had in my house. we can’t get that back. Those photographs, they’re gone. That’s history. I had 30 inches of rain in my house that’s never flooded.”
“The water comes faster now. It takes longer to drain out and it’s just from all the new homes,” said Vicknier.
The district however, compromised and voted for a nine month moratorium.
Chairman of that recall group Zach Boudreaux said, “We’re a group of concerned citizens. We’ve sat back and watched things. The actions of the last few weeks have caused a lot of us to be upset, fed-up and we want change.
We welcome new people in but not without the proper studies and infrastructure. We were all for taking a step back for 12 months like the president suggested. We all told Casso that and they voted against it.
She emailed us saying her opinion was this and she has about 7,000 people in her district and she is 1/7000 of the district. It’s become a pattern, and we want to see better for District 8 in Ascension Parish.”
Corey Orgeron’s recall was filed on July 21st. Chairwoman of that recall group, Denise Marchand Drago, said, “We are on a mission. This man doesn’t represent us. He doesn’t listen at the council meetings. He ignores us. This was just the last straw in the bucket.”
Drago said in the one week period, they already have 500 signatures and need roughly 2,600 in total.
Unfiltered with Kiran did call and email Orgeron but got no response.
July 26th, the Recall Dempsey Lambert group filed their official paperwork. Chair of that group Phillip Bellan said they need roughly a third of the nearly 8,000 people they have in their district to sign the petition.
“If you knew Dempsey and put work orders in, things got done but if you didn’t know him, orders sit for years,” said Bellan.
Unfiltered with Kiran did call and email Lambert but got no response.
Aaron Lawyer’s group filed their recall petition on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
Sunny Edwards is running the recall efforts against Aaron Lawler.
“We’re determined to move forward and get him out of office because he’s known for his antics, he’s known by a lot of people as lying Lawler. He tells you one thing and does something different. He does not represent the people, the constituents that put him in. We need to get him out. It’s that simple,” said Edwards.
The recall groups for John Cagnolatti & Dal Waguespack all say they plan to file their paperwork with the Secretary of State in August.
“I’m sure he’s a very fine man and has a lot of family in Ascension Parish. I was at the drainage meeting in June. I was among nearly three dozen people who stood up and spoke up in favor of our current parish president because we feel he has the knowledge on drainage. There were probably 100 people in that room and many didn’t speak but they all filled out cards and in opposition to what can be described as a very covert, deceptive, secretive method in how they would remove the parish president as the head of the drainage board. The thing that upset everyone is how they went around everybody. We asked for his resignation (John Cagnolatti) because we felt he had completely ignored the desires of his constituents. We felt Mr. Cagnolatti gave us no reason to remove our parish president. When we told him to resign, he asked for our patience. He may not have headed the effort to replace our parish president with Bill Roux but he did go along with it,” said chair of the Recall John Cagnolatti group Kathy Delatte.
Cagnolatti did not return a call or email for comment.
Catrina Bonomolo is serving as the chair for the Recall Dal Waguespack Group.
“We just feel Ascension parish is not going in the direction people want. They’re more worried about development than the infrastructure. If we don’t do something, the parish will be destroyed. We need to do at least three recalls successfully to make a difference but we want six. If we can do all six, we can get six people who want to make a change and start changing some of the development laws and ordinances. We’re tired of everyone passing the buck. He voted to take Clint off the board and the people voted him in because we wanted him in charge of drainage because he’s got the most knowledge of any parish president we’ve ever had,” said Bonomolo.
Waguespack responded via email and said, “Sorry, I was out of town this weekend. My campaign contributions are on the Louisiana ethics website. I did not receive any contributions from developers or constructions companies.”
“We actually voted them into office. We put them into office and we asked them to do what we want to do because they told us that’s what they were going to do and then they turn around and do us this way and not listen and not go along with the constituents,” said Edwards. “It’s something that’s never been done to my knowledge in history. It’s six individual council members being recalled in one parish.”
Unfiltered with Kiran did reach out to the Ascension Parish President and Bill Roux for comments or interviews for this report but never got a response to those requests.