St. John Council, Administration clash over role of parish engineer

Published 12:30 am Saturday, February 16, 2019

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish engineer consultant Joseph Savoie came under harsh criticism this week from Parish President Natalie Robottom, although she never mentioned him by name.

However, Council members rallied to his defense during tense discussions on this issue at Tuesday’s Council finance committee meeting.

The meeting got off to a rough start when Robottom called into question Savoie, and his firm, C.J. Savoie Consulting Engineering of Napoleonville.

Along with Joe Savoie’s dad, Chuck Savoie, the firm has been the parish’s consulting engineer for three decades.

However, at the end of 2018 there was some question of Robottom not wanting to retain the firm’s services. Robottom did not sign the contract for renewal until so ordered by the Council in early January.

For several days in January, the firm was not under contract to the parish to perform engineering services.

The issue once again arose when the Council discussed a motion to amend a professional services agreement with Digital Engineering & Imaging for engineering support and grant management.

Robottom told Council members the amount would not exceed  $150,000 for “project management, grant and loan management and department support in the absence of utilizes and public works directors.”

The parish is without directors for those two critical departments, as both previous directors have left in recent months.

Robottom noted the firm is currently managing $15.5 million in low interest loans and grants. Digital Engineering is receiving $350,000 in its contract.

“I don’t know why we are spending this amount of money at this point,” Councilman Larry Snyder said. “We have an engineer that can do all of this. This contract looks strange to me. I am not going to support this.”

Robottom said there are projects the firm could assist with and added at least one of the interim directors requested additional help. She also accused Savoie’s firm of not always responding in a timely fashion, which was immediately countered by Council members.

“Who is more qualified to give us a credible explanation to let us know what is going on?” Snyder said. “(Savoie) has been there for 30 years.”

Malik said he agreed with Snyder that Savoie’s office was “sufficient to take care of these issues for us.”

Robert Delaune of Digital Engineering said there are many moving parts in the projects and “there is a need for project management to key projects going on in the parish.”

Councilman Larry Sorapuru Jr. said the utilities department needs all of the help it can get.

“How can we (plan) for four to five years without two directors?” he asked.

Present Council members opted to unanimously table a decision on Administration’s request for engineering support and grant management from Digital Engineering & Imaging.

— By Richard Meek