Two parish presidents were at Vegas conference as hurricane took aim, WBRZ learns
GONZALES - The Ascension and West Baton Rouge Parish presidents are under fire for abandoning their communities during Hurricane Barry last week. Both parishes were under a state of emergency when the leaders there decided to leave for Las Vegas to attend a conference.
Kenny Matassa told WBRZ he was in constant contact with parish officials and everyone was in good shape. Information was not forthcoming when we called West Baton Rouge Parish.
So far, the WBRZ Investigative Unit has learned six people from Ascension Parish including Matassa attended the NACO or National Association of Counties annual conference. West Baton Rouge sent President Riley "PeeWee" Berthelot, but it's unclear how many people went with him. Iberville Parish sent most of their council and the council clerk.
Ascension Parish resident Pam Morgan believes their parish president let them down.
"Everyone's looking up to him," Morgan said. "He got into this position because we had faith in him, but here a hurricane is on its way. We don't know which way it's going or what it's going to do, but to leave his people behind- that's selfish...very selfish. Stay here and take care of your people."
This is not the first time an official has been questioned for taking a trip during a storm. In 2016, then East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden traveled to Taiwan as people here were suffering and trying to recover from the worst flooding this parish has ever seen. Pictures showed Holden in ballrooms with big chandeliers accompanied by food and drinks while Holden appeared to hold a champagne flute.
When he was asked about it then, he admitted it didn't have anything to do with flood recovery.
"The (Taiwan) government paid for it," Holden told reporters.
Although Barry passed, largely sparing this area, many are questioning the thought process for two parish presidents to abandon their people during what could have been a critical emergency.