No rec director yet in St. John

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 27, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / February 27, 1999

LAPLACE – The St. John Parish recreation program was called a”shambles” as the parish council sat on its hands Tuesday when offered another nomination for the program’s new director.

After a lengthy discussion with Recreation Advisory Board members over the program and the parish government’s inaction, Parish President Arnold Labat offered up Sgt. Ronnie Smith of the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Officeas the new director.

No one made a move to confirm Smith.

Just prior to Labat’s nomination, the council heard from representatives of the Recreation Advisory Board who asked for a search process for seeking a qualified director.

“We need a professional recreation director, not a retired athlete,” Russ Wise declared, speaking on behalf of the board. “A retired athlete does notmake a recreation director.”Wise held aloft three resumes received by board members and said, “Any one of these are at least as qualified.” He further added the matter ofchoosing a new recreation director deserves serious attention.

Along those lines, Wise (joined at the podium by fellow member Phil Helm) suggested establishing the position of recreation director as a civil service position to get it as far away from politics as possible. He alsosuggested appointing Debra Poche as interim program coordinator.

Labat immediately declared Poche would not be appointed as such, and commented that despite her 20-plus years in association with parish recreation she was part of the problem, not the solution he envisions.

“We had her in her position for 20 years,” Labat said, “and the program was in complete chaos.”Wise, drawing a line in the sand, observed, “If those things cannot be done – we quit.”He added, “We feel about as useless an organization that has ever been created in this parish. Our advice is ignored completely or rejected.”We were supposed to have input but were told three times in a row who the recommendation would be. That’s not a committee, that’s a rubberstamp.”Council members were immediately split in reaction to Wise’s remarks.

Joel McTopy, who appointed Wise, commented, “I tend to completely agree with Mr. Wise.”McTopy said the advisory board is, indeed, commonly ignored, and said, “The advisory board gives advice and he says, ‘Eh!’ It’s a shambles!” On the other hand, Perry Bailey responded, “Mr. Wise, I really resent someof the things you’ve said, and if you want to say you quit, then quit!” Labat likewise took offense to the program being termed a shambles and accused McTopy of not going to the parks and activities to know what was going on.

“You’re gonna tell me? I beg your pardon!” McTopy snapped in response.

McTopy and Bailey later agreed that the new recreation director should come from St. John Parish but, as McTopy said, “I want someone who cando the job.”The council approved conducting a search for a permanent director with the stipulation that director would not come on board until January 2000, after the fall elections, and then failed, in a 5-4 vote, to recommend Poche’s appointment.

Later in the meeting, Labat offered Sgt. Ronnie Smith of the St. JohnParish Sheriff’s Office, a resident of LaPlace, as his nominee for recreation director.

Labat pointed out Smith’s experience in operating a recreation program in the U.S. Army, his volunteer experience with the St. John program and hisrecommendation from Sheriff Wayne L. Jones.Chief Harold Klibert of the sheriff’s office said Smith has served with the department since July 1996 in the crime scene section of the Criminal Investigations Division.

“He’s a fine young man, interested in being a mentor,” Klibert commented.

“I wish we had more like him.”Back at the meeting, McTopy told Labat, “I’m totally embarrassed,” saying Labat permitted the discussion to ramble on without informing the council of his surprise nomination. “I am insulted.”With no council member making a motion to confirm the appointment, the matter died.

Smith briefly addressed the council after the vote, and pointed out, “If not me, somebody needs to be in control of recreation. You need somebodyrunning recreation who can make decisions right away.”Following the meeting, Smith observed as to the failure of his appointment, ” We knew it was a possibility it would happen. I wassurprised they didn’t even vote on it.”Labat said he has yet to receive the resumes displayed by Wise and added, “They don’t do no good in his hands.”

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