Recreation woes: The focus shifts from Rec. 2-3 to Rec. 11

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The secretary of a Houma recreation district quit last week, as its board members gathered to discuss the potential of terminating her employment.

Terrebonne Parish Recreation District 11 members called a special meeting for last Monday in regard to allegations that Renee Bourg and another employee, Kathy Crappel, had engaged in misconduct related to the district’s Sam’s Club member benefits, according to board members familiar with the allegations.

Additionally, the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office is investigating a theft allegation in connection with district operations. Details of the complaint are not currently available, however, said Maj. Malcolm Wolfe, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman. The allegations are against specific individuals who have not been publicly named.

Irregularities emerged at the same time that the Terrebonne Parish Council is considering approval of a $2.5 million bond issue for the district, intended for repairs to the Mechanicville Gym. The bond is to be discussed and potentially approved this week. Hank Babin, who helped craft and present the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce’s plan for recreation district reform last year, is among community members grappling with the reality of what needs District 11 has, versus questions of financial responsibility.

Speaking for himself — and in no way for the Chamber — Babin would like to see more restraint.

“The needs within Rec 11 are obvious as there are many parks and gyms with major maintenance issues. Some, like the Mechanicville Gym, are even unsafe. As a community, we should all find this completely unacceptable,” Babin said, speaking on condition that his entire statement would appear in this story. “Our parks and recreational system should serve all people equally. The system, the whole system, needs a plan and new organizational structure. My opposition to this proposal is not opposition to the people of Mechanicville or Rec 11. It is opposition to continuing this same system that continues to underserve the people of Terrebonne. Giving a Rec Board, any Rec Board, this much money that is currently being audited and is under some investigation into financial issues does not seem prudent. I fully support making the Mechanicville Gym a safe place for the community. But let’s see a complete plan before we simply approve a $2.5M line of credit. It’s time for less politics and more sanity. The sooner we address the system, the sooner all of our people can enjoy better facilities.”

The matter involving employees Crappel and Bourg ended up not being an issue for the Rec 11 Board once it met. Crappel had already resigned from the district’s employ when board members met last week. Bourg was performing her regular duties prior to the meeting, at which her resignation was submitted and accepted. The agenda for the meeting stated the possibility that discussion of the employees would be held in executive session, meaning the public could not be present. Public bodies are allowed to meet in closed session when the character and fitness of an individual are being discussed, if the person being discussed wishes for them to do so.

The issues at District 11 come on the heels of major changes at District 2-3, another Houma recreation district, whose entire board was replaced by the Terrebonne Parish Council, which now has oversight of the districts.

Parish President Gordon Dove has also ordered audits of Districts 2-3 and District 11 as well as his own recreation department, which is a separate entity.

The Rev. Vincent Fuselier, chairman of the Rec. 11 board, said that in his estimation all went by the book last week, and that he and other board members are seeking to bring the district, which has a checkered management history, into compliance with all relative rules, regulations and laws.

The issue with the two district employees, officials said, had to do with bonus points scored on the district’s Sam’s Club card. The card is not a credit card, but is used to keep track of shopping at the Walmart-owned big-box outlet. In order to shop at Sam’s and take advantage of discounts, a person must have the card, which is purchased for an annual fee.

The Rev. Vincent Fuselier said critics of the board should bear in mind that current efforts are aimed at normalizing operations, following various complaints of poorly managed facilities.

“We are very comfortable with the current direction,” Fueslier said. “There have been some drastic changes and we are working to fix things. We have caught up and staff is working diligently.”

Among the matters board members are addressing is the manner in which concessions at the various fields and gyms are handled. Booster clubs were the primary concession sellers and benefactors. But the board has revisited some of those policies and is in the process of making change.

Parish Councilman John Navy said he is paying close attention to District 11, as most of it is in his district.

He supports approval of the bond, because the gym in Mechanicville is so badly in need of repairs that dangerous conditions exist.

“There are some people not wanting it to pass and who don’t want anything done for that area, but that is my district and I support it,” Navy said. “People are complaining that they haven’t done maintenance. When it is falling apart and unsafe nobody says anything. When we try to improve there is criticism.”

Criticism of a bond issue for District 11, Navy said, is lopsided, considering that District 2-3, which is in a considerably more upscale — and racially diverse — area, is under the same investigation as District 11. Additionally, employees of District 2-3 are believed to be the subjects of investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

Although the most potentially contentious item on last week’s meeting was stricken from the agenda, the meeting was not without controversy.

Holi Politz of Houma, who describes herself as a taxpayer in the district concerned about its activities, said she could not enter the room where the meeting was held inside the West Houma Gym due to a locked door.

Board members said the access problem was due to a mechanical issue with the lock’s operation, and not any desire to keep the public from the meeting.

Politz said she is not filing an open meetings law complaint against the district at this time.

Gordon Dove