YMCA kicks up council dust

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A plea for local government help from the director of Terrebonne Parish’s YMCA created a flurry of public criticism last week and met resistance from several Parish Council members when the request was made.

Angi Falgout, executive director of the Bayouland YMCA, told parish council members at a Dec. 10 committee meeting that the organization is in serious need of financial assistance. During her presentation, Falgout said that among the woes of the organization is what amounts to competition from private gyms, specifically naming Houma’s Planet Fitness gym.

The question has since become moot, however, as Falgout confirmed Monday that help from private donors and a review of the organization’s programs make the request unnecessary at this time.

“I am sitting down with my CPA and we have had commitments from private donors to help us,” Falgout said in a telephone interview. “And we are doing some restructuring in 2019. We are in the process of bringing more programming and trying some newer things.”

“I came to President (Gordon) Dove and the Council to request some assistance to get through the next month and a half, until the rest of our funding comes through,” Falgout said when she made the request. “Right now the funding is not there.”

Despite a presentation that suggested dire financial straits, Falgout said Monday the Bayouland YMCA is nowhere near having to close its doors.

Councilman Darrin Guidry, in whose district the YMCA is located, said that he had sat down with Parish President Dove and parish CFO Kandace Mauldin to identify potentials for assistance.

“We can’t help you with all of your hole,” Guidry said. “The funding we identified are kind of one-time funds. We did identify $30,000 and I am okay recommending that and Mr. Dove is supportive as long as half of that money is used for scholarships to help people who cannot afford the monthly fees for your facility.”

Guidry also said that the sole purpose of having the item on the council agenda was for discussion. Action on the matter, if the council agreed for it to move forward, would require not only a legal opinion but also a public hearing.

Councilwoman Arlanda Williams, who once served on the YMCA board, said she could not support such a measure. Public money can and has been used in the past, she said, to fund many organizations and activities. But these, she said, were organizations with a broader public purpose, such as The Haven, which aids victims of domestic violence.

Councilman John Navy likewise expressed reservations, suggesting that a bailout for an organization that requires memberships and fees was not appropriate.

The proposal sounded an alarm on social media pages where advocates for recreation and others attacked the potential of money going to the YMCA, when the parish has recreation districts that draw their money from taxes they levy, as well as the parish government’s own millage that goes to the Recreation Department. Voters approved a renewal of that millage Saturday, three days before Falgout made her request to the council.

Darrin Guidry made a motion for the parish president to explore options that could help the YMCA, and then added that an such action would be subject to a legal opinion from the parish attorney.

The measure passed with only Councilwoman Williams voting no.

Monday morning, after learning that the YMCA has obtained other help, Darrin Guidry said he does not expect the matter to come up before the council again.

He emphasized that neither he nor any other official was seeking to hav the parish “donate” money to the YMCA.

“We can’t donate to a private entity,” he said. “We can only provide funding for programs that serve the public interest. The two things I know of the YMCA provides that may qualify as being of public interest are sports programs they offer for children 2-5 years old, T-Ball and soccer for example, and certain activities for the elderly, among others. TPR does not offer programs for this age group. These programs at the YMCA are open to everyone, even non-members. However, we need additional information from the YMCA and our legal counsel before we could even consider it … and if we did consider it, we would not be voting on it until late January.”

The buzz generated by the potential, however, had some far-reaching implications. Questins arose about Falgout’s position as a member of Recreation Board 2-3, a non-paying position but one that some critics said could conflict with her position as YMCA director.

Falgout said that no conflict exists, and that if one did, she would not have taken the position. Based on an opinion from the board’s counsel, Falgout said, she is confident. An opinion was not sought, however, from the Louisiana Board of Ethics Administration, which has the final say on whether or not a person violate the state’s ethics laws. Such opinions, which can be given when requested, concern adherence to the letter of specifics in the applicable laws.