Lipps resigns as rec office closes in St. John Parish

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 21, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / September 21, 1998

LAPLACE – The controversy surrounding recreation in St. John the BaptistParish took a different turn this week as Recreation Director Louis Lipps resigned and the parish recreation department was shut down.

Parish President Arnold Labat and Parish Administrator Pat McTopy said the administration closed the department after it had overspent its budget for the fiscal year. Because there are no more funds available, Labat saidthat all recreation programs have been shut down for the remaining of the fiscal year ending in December. Labat said that Lipps has resigned asdirector but did not know what assistant director Debra Poche was going to do. Three other civil service workers in the department have beenreassigned.

Labat will assume duties as recreation director and will meet with a blue-ribbon committee to get advice on recreation. Labat said themaintenance of the parish parks will be turned over to public works.

“We are going to evaluate the entire recreation program and get some direction from there,” Labat said.

The recreation department had a budget of $330,000 for the fiscal year.

McTopy said that the department had already spent $345,965 through the end of August and Labat said that bills are still coming in.

The issue will be addressed under correspondence during the meeting of the St. John Parish Council Tuesday night. Council president Duaine Duffysaid that with the department using its budget, the council will have to look at amending the budget.

“We vote on a budget and they have to live within it,” Duffy said. “If thefacts are what they are here, the administration had to do something and I support the administration. I haven’t been pleased with the way recreationhas been handled. We have to take a hard look at it and see what directionto go with it.”But Labat said he does not know where the council would get more money from.

Recreation board member Russ Wise said that the board had not been informed of the administration’s actions or its plans for the future.

“I am a little disappointed that the administration would take a major action on a matter dealing with recreation and not bother to tell the recreation board,” Wise said. “It is inexcusable not to consult with your’advisors’ before taking actions of this type. I am more than a little upsetthat we have been ignored but not surprised.”A separate recreation department was created within the parish administration in January 1995 with Lipps as its director. Formerly, thedepartment fell under the Department of Health and Human Resources with Poche as its head.

The department has had its ups and downs in recent years. There wascontroversy over the closing of the Greenwood Pool and what should be done with the land. Last year, there was an attempt to establish aseparate recreation board similar to the parish library board. And therewas a recent controversy over the early ending of the baseball season.

But there were bright spots as well. Lights were installed at Regala Parkand playground equipment placed at Cambridge Park. The departmentplayed host to the Biddy Basketball District VI championship tournament in March 1997. And two parish basketball teams have won worldchampionships over the past two seasons.

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