Council chairmanship changes hands

There’s been a changing of the guard in the leadership of the Ascension Parish Council, and more changes are likely in parish government.

Two-term Councilman Randy Clouatre, of St. Amant, replaces Councilman Chris Loar, of Prairieville, as the council chairman.

Besides increased public profile, the council chairman runs council meetings, regulates public debate in those meetings and sets council agendas for the 11-member body.

With an unopposed vote and a switching of seats Aug. 7 during a meeting in Donaldsonville, Loar passed on the chairman’s gavel to Clouatre with a pat on the back.

“First of all, I thank my fellow council members for your vote of support,” Clouatre said after taking the chairman’s seat. “I’m going to try to run a meeting with respect for everyone up here and everyone at that podium right there.”

Clouatre also is the longtime chairman of the East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District Board of Commissioners and has played an important role shepherding tens of millions of dollars in projects through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies.

Clouatre, a maintenance manager for Excel Corp., said he will step down from his drainage board chairmanship now that he is council chairman.

Clouatre said he was not aware of any rules that required him to step down but would do so anyway.

“No, I’ll pass that baton on to somebody else,” Clouatre said in a post-meeting interview last week.

Clouatre, who has been drainage board chairman since he first took office in 2008, will remain on the 10-member board, whose members are councilpersons with districts at least partially in east Ascension.

The board oversees the district funded with a half-cent sales tax and 5-mill property tax and, for the past several years, has managed the expenditure of a 2007 bond issue that put $60 million toward capital projects and is now developing plans for tens of millions more in major projects since severe flooding in late May and early June.

Loar handed over the reins of the Parish Council chairman’s job after recently announcing his run for parish president in 2015. Gonzales-area surveyor Clint Cointment also is running for Ascension government’s top executive job. Others are said to be mulling a run.

Sitting Parish President Tommy Martinez is not running for a third consecutive term — and fifth overall — and has backed Loar. Martinez has been mum about his own future in politics.

Loar, who had served two full terms as council chairman and was halfway into his third this year, said he wanted to spend more time on his campaign and meeting with people around the parish.

Loar added he felt it was proper for him not to be a sitting chairman while he was running for parish president but said the chairmanship also takes a lot of time to manage.

“Honestly, I just think I need the time to spend on the campaign,” said Loar, who is the director of business information systems for Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System and has his own software development company.

Switching roles for Loar and Clouatre also means their freedom to speak and vote on issues before the council is likely to change.

Council chairmen traditionally refrain from engaging much in council debate and usually do not vote unless to break a tie.

Loar acknowledged that his switch would allow him to speak out more and require more votes.

But Loar, who, like Clouatre, has been supportive of the administration and been a part of the council’s governing majority, added that as chairman, he had spoken his mind when he felt the need and, most of the time, people knew where he came down on issues even though he didn’t vote.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.