A bumpy year, but lessons are learned

Perhaps it was the rancorous tone being set at the top — all the way in Washington D.C. — or possibly the stars and planets aligned precisely enough in just the right or wrong way.

But 2017 has been an unforgettable year, even if much of that is due to issues and events many would say are best forgotten. There was some good news as well, not the least of which had to do with weather.

Despite crippling hurricanes whose impacts are still being felt to our south and west, the bayou country was spared their wrath. And while the local economy is still reeling from sluggish progress in the offshore oil industry, slow progress is seen that we shall only hope will continue.

The continuation of hostilities in federal court stemming from the ExposeDat blog marked a difficult time for Terrebonne Parish. But there is a lesson that emerges. Sheriff Jerry Larpenter chose to investigate a criminal defamation complaint whose parties were far too close for comfort. The point here is not to bash the sheriff, because what is done is done. The point is the lesson for all of us, that we all take away, is the importance of recognizing that conflicts of interests do not have to exist to have bad effects. The mere appearance of a conflict can lead to a lot of bad things. In this case, for the good of the parish, Larpenter chose to settle the lawsuit that resulted from his choice to investigate the case rather than pass it on to another agency.

Likewise Parish President Gordon Dove made a wise choice when he settled the ExposeDat claim against him. Dove in particular might have made a good and strong stand against the complaint brought by Jennifer Anderson in court, but saw discretion as the better than valor.

Dove has had his own challenges, however. His dream of a totally parish operated permit department, as we have stated before, is worthy of consideration. But circumstances surrounding his engineering of a situation that will see the cancelation of a contract with South Central Planning and Development for those services point to a less noble reality. There have been too many signs of the permitting issue being a matter of personal will. When the parish president puts his best foot forward is when he does not need to whip parish council members or anyone else into submission. His expertise on coastal matters and decisions regarding drainage prove him a leader in that area.

In the arena of lessons learned, however, no topic is more salient than this year’s meetings, discussions and forward movement concerning Terebonne Parish’s recreation boards.

The Terrebonne Parish Chamber of Commerce invested time, energy and money in a public education effort that helped focus attention on problems still being addressed. A parish ordinance giving greater oversight to its council when it comes to the recreation districts was a bold move forward. While it may not be perfect it was a place to start.

The new rules have caused concerns among the men and women who volunteer to serve on recreation boards. But we are confident that those whose work has been laudable will continue to do laudable work. Those whose work has not met that standard now have a greater opportunity to better serve the public.

There are disagreements that will come up in the future especially concern consolidation of the districts.

The dialogue is in process, however. Parish President Dove’s creation of a board that allows the districts to communicate with each other, to help avoid duplication and perhaps be better able to pool resources and work interactively is a good start as well. While there has been some question as to whether this is just one more layer of bureaucracy, we believe judgement should be withheld until things have had a chance to work themselves out.

The recreation board issue is and how things have thus far progressed offers proof that when a community picks up a delicate or difficult topic rather than shunning dialogue and the difficulty that can come with it, problems can be solved.

We did a good job this past year of identifying our problems. This new year will hopefully bring us closer all the way around to solutions, and the triumph of principles over personalities.