OUR VIEW: Time to re-think recreation

Last week Terrebonne Parish Council members took a long-neglected cur by the collar and did some preliminary shaking, by discussing the mountain of problems associated with the parish’s recreation districts.

Currently, the parish’s districts are a hodgepodge of disparate entities that do not communicate with each other, to anyone’s knowledge do little in the way of coordination. Accomplishments vary from board to board. The taxpayers in each district are responsible for paying the costs, even though the outcome can be wildly different from district to district.

Recreation District 9, for example, which includes Summerfield and the communities of Bayou Black and Mulberry, is considered a model of recreational park management. Recreation District 3A, which covers the Friendswood area, has juvenile crime issues but done little in the way of heading that off at the pass through projects that can keep young minds and bodies busy. Another district has a chairman who is interested in little beyond girl’s softball, and so soccer fields allegedly lie fallow.

Council members would like to have some degree of oversight over how the individual districts spend their money and perhaps in some cases direct their personnel. They plan to ask the Louisiana Attorney General for an opinion on how active a role they can play.

In most cases the rec districts seem to be running fine on their own, at first glance.

But there are enough unanswered questions to indicate that approximately $22 million they collectively manage might be more wisely spent.

The development of individual recreation districts occurred as the parish adjusted to its consolidated form of government. But there has been nothing consolidated about the rec districts. Changes in traffic patterns, community locations, development of subdivisions, construction of roads, even shopping patterns, have all made for different potentials of how recreation in the parish can be viewed.

An article in this issue of The Times examines some of the problems council members are currently examining. But that’s just a jumping off place. Failure of any government agency to act effectively on fraud and waste in Recreation District 11 still stings in some circles. One of its members, who resigned in 2013, is now director of the Houma-Terrebonne Housing Authority. Perhaps it was frustration over some of this that moved Councilwoman Arlanda Williams to an emotional response during the body’s recreation discussion, crumbling a piece of paper with ciphering on it presented by District 11 board member Jonathan Foret and launching into diatribe. She later apologized to Foret – who joined the board in an attempt to be a problem solver – indicating he was not the target of her ire. But the pain evident on Foret’s face indicates the apology was too short and too late. As with a family in dysfunction, evidence of the untoward can indicate a need for intervention.

We support the Parish Council’s willingness to seek answers. But we’re not certain all the right questions have been raised. Distribution of resources for something as important as community recreation and the pitfalls attendant to it may require some thinking outside of the box. Solutions built on something other than a vestige of the old police jury form of government may be required. If recreation building and spending was developed centrally, could we one day see the construction of fishing piers in Cocodrie? We likely would not under the current system. If a parish-wide plan was followed free of the politics that relate to choices of board members in varying districts, could we see less of a potential that one playground – as is currently the case – has children’s playground fixtures located directly below live power lines? A parish-wide discussion should be encouraged. Examination of how model communities throughout the region and the nation supply recreation services – and manage them – should be commenced. After all available facts are taken into consideration, perhaps a hybrid born of current practices might be seen still as the best route to follow. Or we could find ourselves looking closer at potentials we currently haven’t dreamed of.

However those discussions take shape over time, however, the first step of seeking an attorney general’s opinion is meritorious. It is one small step for the council, and hopefully the start of a giant leap for the future of recreation in Terrebonne.