Councilwoman’s proposal sparks debate on Terrebonne Parish Recreation reform
A councilwoman’s proposal to form a task force to develop a plan to “modernize and correct the inherent flaws of the current disjointed system of eleven recreation districts” sparked a debate on the previous and current state of recreation in Terrebonne Parish — and what should and should not be done moving forward to fix it.
Last night council member Jessica Domangue, District 5, proposed creating the “Terrebonne Parish Recreation Modernization Task Force.”
Domangue opened the discussion highlighting what she feels is lack of recreation facilities or specific types of complexes, such as swimming pools, for many communities, and noted that besides a few exceptions, “modern outdoor equipment — like adaptive parks for the disabled or outdoor exercise equipment for seniors — are nonexistent.”
“We need a parish-wide strategic vision to make sure that our children and families have all equal access to facilities,” she said. “…Maybe the correct solution is not full consolidation. Maybe it’s going down to four or five districts and redrawing some of the lines. We will never know unless we conduct some sort of study.”
Council member John Navy, District 1, voiced his support for the task force early in the discussion. He said that he is not for or against consolidation, but he is for democracy and “letting the people decide” what to do with recreation.
According to the proposed group’s charter, the outcome of the task force would likely necessitate a voter referendum — with the recommendation, after being submitted to the council, finalized before placement on the October 9, 2021 ballot.
Councilman Gerald Michel, District 3, expressed his concerns of the proposed task force, suggesting that the group might have an underlying agenda — to consolidate the districts.
According to its charter, the task force shall carry out analysis on at least three alternatives:
Alter existing boundaries of one or more existing recreation districts to mirror significant population and demographic shifts in the parish since consolidation occurred in 1981; and/or merge one or more recreation districts to allow for greater financial solvency; and/or, completely consolidate all recreation districts into one Parish-wide district, either immediately or resulting from a series of incremental steps to that goal.
“To avoid potential conflicts-of-interest, no member (or member’s immediate family members) of the task force shall simultaneously be an employee of or serve on any recreation district board, nor should a member (or member’s immediate family members) have any business interest in any recreation district contract,” reads the charter.
The 15-member group will be appointed by the Terrebonne Parish Council.
Proposed non-voting members include: Recreation Advisory Committee Chairman Kirby Verrett, Terrebonne Parish Chief Financial Officer Kandice Mauldin, Terrebonne Parish Recreation Director Roddy Lerille and Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center Director Dean Schouest.
Michel said the task force selection process is eliminating the people who know most about recreation, besides the non-voting members, because there is a predetermined outcome. “…They know that they want to redistrict; they want consolidation in some way, shape or form,” he said. “So this is a consolidation task force; modernization has nothing to do with.”
Michel added that the consolidation is being used as a solution for the fact that the Council hasn’t held rec districts accountable, before giving the example of Recreation District 2-3, which the Council revamped a few years ago by selecting all new members after concerns over management.
“We certainly held Rec 2-3 accountable, and as a result, the board has changed…We do have a great board of Rec 2-3 right now,” he said. “There are other boards that have not been held accountable and so people are afraid to hold them accountable.”
Domangue took the floor again after Michel and quoted her fellow council member’s sentiments in an op-ed he wrote in February for a local newspaper.
“‘While consolidation would have to be voted on by the public, to place it on the ballot must be approved by the Parish Council. Should we bring this proposal to the voters at this time? Not in my opinion,’” she said, quoting Michel. “You went on to say, ‘As long as the majority of the people in the parish don’t have access to actual facts — or at least balanced opinions — I will not support placing consolidation on the ballot.’”
Domangue then asked Michel if he would consider the findings of a task force to be “actual facts,” to which he replied: “not if you exclude the people who know the information from being on the task force.”
After further exchange on that topic, Domangue asked him: “Do you still believe that the voters of Terrebonne are not sophisticated enough to cast a referendum vote in their best interests?”
Michel asserted that Domangue was implying that: “That’s not what I said. Please don’t put words in my mouth,” he said. “I never said that the people of Terrebonne Parish are not sophisticated enough. Please don’t put words in my mouth, ma’am.”
Daniel Babin, District 7, also shared his sentiments on consolidation, adding that he was “100 percent” opposed to it. Babin, who noted that he represents Recreation Districts 4, 9 and 10, said the facilities in his area are financially stable and “top-notch.”
“I’m not trying to say that we don’t have some type of problem with recreation in this parish,” he said. “But if we’re having problems in a certain area, why do we want to penalize the people that have been doing it right?”
Council member Dirk Guidry, District 8, agreed with Babin’s remarks that consolidation would hurt other districts that are not causing problems. He said he wasn’t opposed to letting the voters decide on the issue, however.
Dirk Guidry also discussed what he feels is an issue with the proposed task force — which is the timing. He said it should have been held off until after the Rec 2-3 10-year 5-mill renewal that will be on the ballot November 3, as it could “only hurt” the chances of getting the tax passed.
Council members Darrin Guidry, District 6, and Carl Harding, District 2 — who both supported the task force — also expressed concerns on how the timing would affect the millage renewal. Guidry also emphasized how important the millage was for rec district to keep functioning.
During public comment, Shawn Dupre, a member of the Rec 2-3 board, shared his opinion on the timing as well, before noting that the board reached the goals that were set when the new members took over.
“How can we go to our constituents of Rec 2-3 and ask for approval of our 5-mill renewal at the same time this task force is figuring out a way…to go into consolidation,” he said. “…In my opinion, my opinion only, if this task force is formed, we’ve got an uphill battle to climb when it comes to our renewal.”
Several other members of the public spoke, with some supporting the task force, and others addressing their concerns about it.
Steve Trosclair, Council Chairman, said he supported the task force and doesn’t have a problem with it coming back with a recommendation and sending that recommendation to a vote. However, the District 9 councilman said he would rather it be a district-by-district vote, instead of parish-wide. “Now you get a true representation of what your district wants,” he added.
Another factor that was discussed during the meeting: there already is an ordinance for an advisory board for Terrebonne Parish Recreation.
Parish Attorney Jules Hebert cited Article 4, Sections 21-49–29-65, in the Code of Ordinances. The 17-member “Terrebonne Parish Recreation Advisory Board” purpose is “to assist the parish government in its public recreation program for the parish and for the City of Houma,” according to the ordinances.
Hebert suggested that council members review the existing ordinance to see if they could use it, and said he doesn’t believe it’s been active. He also highlighted that the advisory board is a separate entity from Parish President Gordon Dove’s recreation advisory board. The Council was able to approve the motion to create the new task force at last night’s meeting, Hebert noted, but the existing ordinances would have to be changed.
“Since we have a recreation task force that is already under an ordinance, the charter says, if there is an existing ordinance or a state law, you have to get rid of it,” he explained.
Ultimately, the motion to create the Terrebonne Parish Recreation Modernization Task Force carried.
The full charter can be read here: Moderization_Taskforce_Revised (1)
UPDATE: Babin, Michel and Dirk Guidry opposed the motion; all other council members were for it.