Former Ascension Parish President, Kenny Matassa, received massive payday before leaving office
GONZALES - Former Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa reportedly took home more than $190,230 in gross salary during his last year in office and now, some are questioning the legitimacy of the former politician's massive payday.
The Advocate reports that Matassa received a large onetime check for back pay in his final weeks as president, a check which amounted to $42,230 more (before taxes and deductions) than the $148,000 he'd earned annually during his prior years in office.
Around the same time as this windfall, which was in late October, Matassa was still trying to find a way to pay over $230,000 in legal bills after his bribery indictment and trial.
Current and former officials say Matassa's extra money may have been an unanticipated outcome of a revision to the parish pay schedule that the Parish Council adopted in August 2018, but didn't apply to Matassa's pay until October.
The new Parish President's administration addressed Matassa's unexpected payday by issuing a statement, Monday, which said, "If it is found that any money was paid out improperly, the Parish will pursue all legal options to recover misappropriated funds."
"The Administration and Council are working hard to build trust in government. They are disappointed this happened and are taking all necessary action to open Parish Government to full transparency."
The Advocate reports that the change to Matassa's salary boosted his annual pay by 18.6% from $148,000 to $175,456 in the final two months of his term.
The increase was also applied retroactively to Aug. 30, 2018, which means Matassa also received a one-time payout of $30,228.23 last fall for 14 months of back pay, adding to his earnings in 2019.
In addition to the immediate cash, the retroactive check also helped boost the last year and a half of Matassa's salary, potentially increasing his lifetime retirement payments.
The parish salary schedule that facilitated the increase was adopted during the same committee and council meetings in July and August of 2018 when the council was also considering an increase in pay for the future parish president in January 2020.
That administration didn't raise the idea that adoption of the pay plan would mean a pay increase for the sitting parish president.
During an interview on Monday, Matassa said he never asked for a pay increase and didn't realize the August 2018 pay plan would result in an increased paycheck for him.
Matassa said at some point after the new payment schedule went into effect, the new payroll software system flagged his pay as 'out of line' and once he was alerted to this, he directed finance officials and his legal adviser, O'Neil Parenton Jr., to figure out the appropriate measures to take.
"When this came up, I said give it to O'Neil and I said, 'Whatever's legal is legal,' and that's what happened. That's as much as I know," Matassa said.
Though Matassa couldn't say when finance officials first informed him of the salary discrepancy, Cointment officials said this happened in October, and payroll records show that the correction was made on Oct. 22, 2019.
Well over a month later, in December, the council agreed to pay Matassa $231,829 for his legal fees from the bribery case during a council meeting that was shared with residents via a public broadcast and meeting agenda.
The Advocate reports that neither Matassa, who by then had already been receiving bigger checks, nor any other parish officials ever mentioned his higher pay in the public portion of the December meeting. But, Matassa did meet with council members and others during an extended closed-door session.
When Matassa and Cointment administration officials were asked if other parish employees received increases or lump-sum checks for back pay, Matassa said he wasn't sure and Cointment administration officials said eight other parish employees were impacted by the pay plan amendment.
The Advocate says as this list of affected employees was not immediately available Monday, it remains to be seen exactly how the new pay schedule impacted their pay.
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