If you’ve read the papers or seen the council meetings, you have learned much about the problems of the recreation districts of Terrebonne Parish. Or have you? You were told that Recreation District 11 has had insurmountable problems and needs to be taken over by Terrebonne Parish Council and administration. You've also heard that Recreation District 2-3 has been breaking laws and sitting on $4 million while the Bayou Sports Complex sits idle.
Years ago, Recreation District 11 did have serious problems. Despite the efforts of then-Councilmen Dirk Guidry, Ronald “Red” Hornsby and Danny Babin, other council members chose to ignore the problems, including the very councilman who still sits on the council and now wants control of recreation in District 11 even though the problems are all but resolved.
In addition to Recreation District 11 issues, reports have accused Recreation District 2-3 of requiring cash payments to its employee to allow access to public facilities. Some were led to believe that greedy recreation district employees were getting their palms greased for use of public facilities.
This is not what was happening. The reality is that a shortcut was being taken. The teams using the fields were paying the employee directly for his services rather than paying the Recreation District, which should then pay the employee. While ethics rules and laws may have been violated, there was absolutely no ill-intent. This is simply the way it had been done for years, dating back to a time when this was an accepted practice. If ill-intent had been involved, a cover-up would have followed. There was no cover-up.
I am not defending these actions, but without hesitation or reservation, I do defend the reputation, the character and the intentions of the men on the board of Recreation District 2-3. For decades these men have given their time and dedication to our children.
As if media attacks weren’t enough, the parish president has broadcast that Recreation District 2-3 was sitting on over $4 million while delaying the completion of the Bayou Sports Complex. Others believed his rhetoric and jumped on his bandwagon.
The facts show that Recreation District 2-3 had a bank balance of under $725,000 at the end of 2016. Between tax collections and reimbursement from the state for previous park projects, at the end of June, the Recreation District had a bank balance of about $3.5 million.
Since June 30 and prior to the false accusations of hoarding money, the Board of Directors for Recreation District 2-3 approved expenditures for lighting for the girls' complex ($450,000), building concession stands ($850,000) and covering backstops and dugouts for the boys' fields (about $72,000). In collaboration with the parish and the soccer association, it is also moving forward with completion of the soccer fields and parking lots. Obviously the parish president’s accusations were as unfounded as his manner was inappropriate when he chose to raise his voice in dispute.
With the Recreation District already under fire, one councilman decided to throw it a grenade by snatching the checkbook and passing it to administration. This mean-spirited act was done without warning or explanation immediately following the council’s approval of the ordinance that redundantly granted “oversight” over all recreation districts. In one simple act, he proved that I was correct in my first reason for voting against the “oversight” ordinance.
The second reason I did not vote for the ordinance is because the ordinance was not an “oversight” ordinance at all; it was a control ordinance. The two council members who seemed to be spearheading this witch hunt feel they can run recreation districts in our parish better than the boards that are in place. However, it will be the CFO and her staff who will have this monumental task. While the accounting staff is certainly qualified, it is doubtful that it can accomplish it without spending more parish money.
Perhaps the most important reason why I voted against this ordinance is that it effectively places the fate of recreation and these boards in the hands of politicians who seem to act impulsively and secretly, with ulterior motives. That’s exactly what happened at the end of Wednesday’s meeting. We will see multiplying bureaucracy, escalating costs and good people discouraged from participating on recreation boards. This vote was a giant step backward merely for the sake of politics. Perhaps a better action on the part of the Parish Council might have been to simply thank the members of these boards for their service, guide them when oversight is needed and get out of their way so they can continue their good works in providing recreation and facilities for our children.
Recreation District 2-3 has acknowledged its mistakes, is taking aggressive steps to correct them and deserves our sincere thanks. Wouldn’t it be nice if parish government would do the same?
Gerald Michel represents District 3 on the Terrebonne Parish Council.