Recreation dept. inaction serves no one

Published 8:43 am Saturday, March 7, 2015

The acrimony that plagues St. John the Baptist Parish Council members and St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom in their dealings concerning who will lead the parish’s utilities department has spread to local ball fields.

More precisely, there is disagreement on how to attract the young people necessary to populate and sustain a vibrant parks and recreation department.

In January, Council members unanimously approved the appointment of Kerry Watkins, a native of St. John Parish and former professional football player in the Canadian Football League, to lead the parks and recreation department.

Two months later, the Council voted down a request by Robottom, and championed by Watkins, to hire a program coordinator at an annual salary of approximately $43,000 to help the department.

Watkins told Council members he “can’t be in all places at one time. I need someone to help me run some of these programs,” which were reported to have doubled since Watkins took over the position, one that was vacant for more than a year.

The vote was blocked last week by a slim 4-5 motion, which is out of line from previous Council roadblocks of Robottom personnel motions concerning the utilities department that came through unanimously.

Councilwoman Cheryl Millet said until the parish lowers the $45 registration fee for each sport, she does not support spending money on someone else’s salary and benefits.

Councilman Ranney Wilson said the recreation department has steadily gone downhill for more than two decades, while Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard described the department as “in shambles.”

It’s clear Watkins has his work cut out for him — in terms of increasing youth participation and garnering enough elected official support to lead a team to the size of his liking.

However, there is room for compromise. Should parish officials develop a fee schedule that charges less for youth participation, maybe one Council member will change his or her vote from a no to a yes.

It was Robottom who pointed out last week Council members have already approved the position (and its pay) when passing the current operating budget.

If the budget was passed in late December and Watkins’ move to parish leadership was less than a month later, surely there is room for all sides to work together.

Inaction serves no one, especially parish youth.