Better vigilance needed

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Nearly six months ago this newspaper published troubling findings regarding the finances of Terrebonne Parish Recreation District 2-3, focusing on apparent irregularities in its concession stand practices.

We reported that a gap of more than $55,000 appeared to exist “between the dollars spent on Coca Cola products from 2015 through 2017 and the amount of bank deposits made from concession sales in that same period, according to records obtained by a community recreation district watchdog and then examined by The Times.”

Last week an audit promised by Parish President Gordon Dove verified concerns related to those findings. That audit also went further, presenting costs of items for food and also items purchased at Sam’s Club in Houma.

Now, with the imprimatur of an official audit driving them, law enforcement officers are beginning to examine the Rec. 2-3 finances and trying to determine if any of the behavior related to concession expenses is criminal in nature. The criminal justice system moves slowly. Without an outright admission from someone who may have pilfered cash or stock, or an accusation coming directly from someone else with knowledge, prosecution could be difficult if not impossible.

That does not leave Recreation District 2-3, now operated by a totally new board of directors, out in the dark. A civil action may be possible, which has a lower standard of proof than a criminal action’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement. But facts must be assembled and at present they are in short supply.

Ultimately, any money or equipment that belongs to the district, and therefore to taxpayers, must be accounted for and if anything is missing it must be replaced. There are open questions for now, including what the liability of individual former board members should or could be for the period under study, if losses are proved. An argument can be clearly made that it was the board’s responsibility to oversee its employees, in particularly those dealing with cash money. Where does the liability end and begin? And where does it move from ignorance or incompetence to criminality?

The difficulty with this case overall is that with few important financial records being kept at all, proof of wrong-doing is difficult if not impossible. Therefore, if any crimes were committed, they could end up being “perfect crimes,” because nobody was watching the store.

We are not attorneys and so cannot determine the best course of action for the recreation district, any prosecutorial office handling this case ultimately, or any parish officials.

What we do know is that the problems of Recreation District 2-3 have ignited a new focus and concern on how Terrebonne Parish approaches its recreation responsibilities. That means more people are paying attention, and that we are as well.

A new initiative for recreation reform in Terrebonne has a home on the web,

Largely led by Houma real estate broker Hank Babin, the new organization seeks consolidation of recreation districts in the middle and northern portions of Terrebonne. There would be changes in tax policies if this occurs, since each recreation district currently has its own rate and budget.

The Rec Reform movement is valid, and will require the involvement of many good minds from many people of good will to be successful.

We realize that the events leading up to current scrutiny have been emotionally draining for many people involved. It is our hope that all individuals wishing to better recreation in Terrebonne Parish pay close attention to how programs and finances are handled from this point on. Attend recreation board meetings and let your voices be heard, no matter where in the parish you live.

With the help of many well-intentioned people, it is our hope that continued vigilance will result in a better quality of life for all Terrebonne Parish residents.