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Lipps’ future, recreation department status unclear

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / September 29, 1998

LAPLACE – The fate of St. John Parish Recreation Director Louis Lipps’ jobmay be decided at a special meeting of the St. John Parish CouncilTuesday.

The special meeting, set for 6:30 p.m., will be preceded by a financecommittee meeting at 5:30 p.m.At the regular meeting held Sept. 22, a packed house of parents andrecreation boosters voiced their support of Lipps, whose resignation was announced by Labat Sept. 18, along with that of assistant director DebraPoche. Three other department employees were reassigned.Labat said he would meet with a blue-ribbon committee to re-evaluate the recreation program and take action, based on its recommendation.

Meanwhile, motivational speaker Harold Keller voiced his support of Labat’s action, declared the program was deeply troubled, and he took shots from audience members and from the recreation advisory board.

“It took a lot of guts,” Keller said of Labat’s decision. “I’m talking for2,000 kids that don’t have any recreation.” He also said the parishrecreation program didn’t have any football program and didn’t do enough recruiting of children for the program.

Keller continued he had twice informally met with a group of interested citizens at the Cornerstone Cafe, including Richard Green of Shell, Brandon Henderson of Nalco, Frank Miles of Bunge, Galin Bernard of Federal Reserve Board and coaches Frank Monica and Timmy Byrd.

Keller added he met with Lipps, suggested he resign and called for the department to be “abolished” and to start building it all over again.

Three years ago the parish bought the old Butterfly Lounge for a community center. Three years later, Keller said, it’s still not open. Thepurchase of the LaPlace Lions hall was done, but mainly it is used only for offices.

Lipps briefly responded to Keller’s remarks and said, “I think we did the best job we possibly could with the people we had.”He said recreation programs are not simply geared to generating all-star teams and that the department actively recruits as many as possible at local schools.

Lipps did complain about the buildings bought for the department, and commented that the parish “keeps getting property but gives us no more money to maintain them.”Donna Jackson, who coordinated the summer youth program, said after the meeting Keller didn’t know what he was talking about. “We are dedicatedto Mrs. Poche, and the employees are dedicated to the kids,” she said.Recreation Advisory Board chairman Philip Helm noted the budget “has always been overspent” and said the program’s loss “is going to make some kids suffer.”Helm added he hoped to see income from the upcoming Andouille Festival still earmarked for recreation programs, urged an audit of the department’s financial records and called for a statewide search for a new director by a local committee selected for that purpose.

He likewise urged the parish to continue with the Biddy Basketball program this winter.

“I’m not here to point the finger at anybody,” Helm said. However, he addedthe removal of Poche, who was the former director with 14 years of service to the department and 22 years in parish service, was the end result of a “personal vendetta” by Labat.

Recreation Board member Danny Rome pointed his remarks more directly at Keller, and demanded, “How can you go behind the recreation board’s backs? Instead of going behind our backs, you should’ve brought your ideas to us.”Rome added he didn’t appreciate Keller’s interference.

Parish Councilman Dale Wolfe pointed his own remarks at Labat, agreeing with Keller that recreation is “in a sad state of affairs.” Then, Wolfeunleashed on Labat, and bursted, “We’re gonna deal with the whole b-s tonight! I’m sick and tired of the administration abusing people, and I’m not gonna let it happen!” Parish Councilman Kevin Duhon noted it took Parish Council concurrence to hire Lipps and thought it likewise took Parish Council concurrence to dismiss him.

“I recommended Louis Lipps be removed as director,” Labat said. “Thereare no more finances to run the department. You’ll have to come up withthe funds.”Parish Councilman Joel McTopy declared to Labat, “This is totally wrong! Arnold Labat removed him without the authority and power to do so. Hedoes not have the power to shut down the department! I’m disgusted!” Labat responded he did have the authority to discharge employees and added the recreation department is not shut down.

“I’ve taken over,” he pointed out, but added he had no more money to spend on recreation.

In other activity, the Parish Council: Approved assisting the LaPlace Lions Club in finding a place for the annual Turkey Shoot fund-raiser, set Nov. 22. Jackie Donaldson pointed outthe event does not involve shooting live turkeys, but instead is a target shoot, with frozen turkeys as prizes.

The Lions Club raises money for the Lions Eye Foundation and for children’s activities.

Approved emergency expenditure of $15,000 for replacement of terra- cotta sewerage pipe in the River Forest Subdivision area.

Heard Public Works Director Greg Bush’s report on 897 overtime hours, valued at nearly $32,000, to prepare for Tropical Storm Frances and other flooding threats.

Heard Civil Defense Director Bertram Madere’s report on employees and volunteers increasing the parish’s stock of 3,500 sandbags to 22,000. Atotal of 10.73 inches of rain had been recorded and, with the backwaterfrom Lake Pontchartrain, caused widespread street flooding.

“No community can be prepared for 10 inches of rain in two days,” Madere said.

Approved a two-month extension of a purchase agreement for the Baker- Heritage building in Reserve with the Port of South Louisiana. The portplans to buy the building and lease it to a new tenant. A prospective tenantis negotiating with the port, Labat said, and an agreement could be made by December.

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