OUR VIEW: Recreation is everyone’s business

Terrebonne Parish lost an opportunity to take a tighter rein on its recreation districts when a proposed ordinance allowing that failed on a technicality.

Council members John Navy, Arlanda Williams, Darrin Guidry and Al Marmande voted for the ordinance. Christa Duplantis-Prather, Gerald Michel and Dirk Guidry were opposed.

Five votes were needed for passage. Council members Steve Trosclair and Scotty Dryden were absent.

Indications are that Councilman Dryden would have voted for the measure, providing the five needed votes. Councilman Trosclair, whose day job required he exit a meeting whose chief agenda item pushed the hands of the clock much further forward than usual, was present but left before the vote.

Specifically, Recreation District 11 would have been required to get approval for expenditures and payroll from the parish’s CFO. It was necessitated, supporting council members have said, by prior mismanagement within the district.

We support the ordinance and will likely support what other form it may take in the future.

District 11 has new board members, but questions linger.

The vote came at a time when the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce had released a report that was highly critical of the recreation districts, and which in particular questioned the time it has taken for progress to be made on development of the parish’s “Field of Dreams,” a long-awaited sports complex which awaits an infusion of money from Recreation District 2-3.

Hank Babin, chairman of the chamber’s recreation task force, presented the group’s recommendation that the Bayou Country Sports Park, along with a planned Airbase Park on the east side of Houma, are too big and expensive for local recreation districts to manage. We are in absolute agreement. Projects of such scale fall properly within the realm of economic development. The parish, perhaps with stronger partnerships within the business community, is in a far better position to manage and maintain such projects of regional appeal. There are issues that complicate the matter, however, and we believe there is room for compromise and discussion.

As Hank Babin rightly pointed out, the future of recreation throughout the parish is something that needs to be discussed, with the best possible minds, holding views more global as well as more parochial, engaged in positive discourse.

As a story in today’s issue of The Times notes, the parish council meeting was perforated by boos and catcalls at times during the discussion on the ordinance and related matters. This should not be the case. Harsh words were exchanged between Councilman Al Marmande and a member of the recreation district that serves his district, sparked by Marmande’s support of the ordinance. Fighting words should not be uttered by council members, particularly toward volunteer board members who have dedicated their personal time to the public good.

The steering committee that is looking at the future of recreation in Terrebonne Parish needs to have a chance to do its work, and explore how better the parish government and the various recreation districts can serve the people. We encourage the idea of meetings that can help build trust, and allay suspicions.

It should be noted that the problems relating to recreation in Terrebonne Parish did not develop overnight. Current parish council members have been well aware of the shortcomings in places where they exist, and of how, when and where good work has been done.

In particular, we encourage people in all of Terrebonne’s communities to attend recreation board meetings, to ask questions, and determine how their millage dollars are being spent.

Recreation board members in some cases have very good points to make about what they can and cannot do and they deserve fair hearing.

For the needs of the future to be met it is vital that everyone take part in the solution. That starts with paying attention. Don’t leave it to your neighbors to translate it for you. Take an active role.

As the Chamber of Commerce report points out, proper recreation management is important for many reasons, including the overall health of the people in our communities.

We hope everyone sees the opening of new discussion as an opportunity to move ahead and meet challenges too long ignored.