Opinion: Give the People a Voice on Recreation
by Jessica Domangue, Terrebonne Council District 5
Quite possibly, no other topic invokes controversy around Terrebonne Parish more than Recreation District consolidation.
Procedurally, it is not for the Parish Council nor the Parish President to decide. Consolidation comes from a Yes/No proposition ballot of the voters of Terrebonne.
The case for reform is compelling. By design, the current system has rampant duplication of costs. We have seen documented cases of waste, fraud, and abuse. Thousands of residents are unfairly paying higher than necessary property taxes.
In this conservative Republican parish, taxpayers shouldn’t tolerate an inefficient government bureaucracy, such as our current recreation system. But sadly, many times, special interests get in the way. Some of the biggest voices for fiscal responsibly are the same people inexplicably fighting to maintain the status quo.
The undeniable fact is that Terrebonne Parish has seen major population and demographic shifts over the past few decades. Refusing to acknowledge this fact has been doing great harm to future generations of our parish.
The current Recreation Districts mostly follow unchanged Police Jury boundaries set between 1956-1979. In that time, much more of the population resided in bayou communities, and the La 311 corridor was little more than sugarcane fields. Today, these lines from a bygone era have no function whatsoever—except to segregate public recreation geographically.
To illustrate this point, look no further than the Terrebonne Parish School District’s school expansions and closures over the past decades. They’ve had to make some very difficult and controversial decisions, but they had no choice but to maintain a system that strives to treat all children across the parish equally.
This system further divides the “haves” and “have-nots” in our parish. What about the child whose parents can’t afford travel leagues? What about the working mom struggling to find time to bring her child 35 minutes across parish for swimming lessons at the nearest municipal pool? What about the six-year-old that must go to a completely different neighborhood to access safe playground equipment, because the family lives on the “wrong” side of a 1956 Police Jury boundary?
As the first Licensed Clinical Social Worker on the Parish Council, it is my duty to advocate for every child in the parish to have equal access to public services like recreation. As a practicing therapist, I see the evidence-based research of how investing in public recreation has a direct correlation to reductions in juvenile delinquency, drug use, and gang activity.
It’s time to rip off the band-aid and begin some process of reforms. In my opinion, a first step is to put consolidation on the ballot.
If the referendum passes, then consolidation is unquestionably the will of the voters of Terrebonne Parish.
But, even if the referendum fails, we would have a current, objective understanding of the will of the parish. The resulting data may show a desire for consolidation in certain communities, while perhaps leaving other communities untouched.
It is far past time to start focusing on the needs of the children in Terrebonne Parish rather than the egos of the adults creating these policies.