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NORD comes under criticism from public at ctme. meeting

26th May 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Politics in New Orleans is rarely described as dull and that idea was on full display at a recent meeting of the City Council’s Community Develop­ment Committee. Com­mit­tee chair, LaToya Cantrell, set the May 21 hearing as a forum to air public grievances with the city’s recreation department. The marathon meeting was littered with shouting matches, charges of racism and cat calls from disgruntled residents.

“I can take the heat; I’m all in. My commissioners are all in,” said Roy Glapion, chairman of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, the city agency that oversees public recreation for residents. NORDC has been under intense criticism for decades and complaints about the beleaguered agency have crescendoed a decade after Hurricane Katrina thanks to complaints about substandard facilities.

Amy Stelly, a Tremé resident, told the committee “when things fall apart shortly after they are opened, then that’s not sustainable.” Stelly presented various photos of NORDC facilities she said were in disrepair. Her sentiments were largely echoed by a number of residents who testified before the committee. Stelly said better facilities are crucial to providing quality activities for the city’s youngest citizens.

Renard Thomas, an advocate for youth recreation, cited figures from the city’s crime maps showing the number of arrests made at NORDC properties over the past year. “What are our children supposed to do?” he asked. “Be protected by rent-a-cops?” Thomas called on the city to allow NOPD officers to work details at park facilities to beef up security. “There are 15 police officers and about eight parish sheriff’s deputies who are volunteer coaches. They are already there. Why not let them work details?”

But Glapion defended the department’s record, citing several figures indicating how the number of baseball fields and other park facilities have increased over the past year. City Councilmember Jason Williams acknowledged the department’s progress, but encouraged continued efforts to improve its record.

Williams noted the department’s failure to apologize to residents who suffered hair loss, damaged swimwear and other adverse health effects after swimming in the agency’s new pool at Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East. “We were told that a new pool manager was hired,” said Cantrell. “But now I hear that person is no longer working there.” Her remarks were met with a round of supportive jeers.

Cantrell also upbraided Glapion and the panel of commissioners over confusion about who hires the agency’s executive director. “We’re being told by the administration that NORDC makes the hire and then NORDC tells us that it’s the administration that makes the hire.” Cantrell also promised to replace her appointed representative on the commission, Kira Orange-Jones, citing her disapproval with the agency.

But commissioner Ava Rogers told the committee that any dysfunction at NORDC should be traced to the City Council because city lawmakers approve the appointments made by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. An animated Cantrell said “Please don’t hand us that ball, Ms. Rogers, because we will handle it.”

Two years ago, NORDC created community advisory teams to incorporate the ideas of residents into the department’s planning and programming. But those meetings, residents charge, are sparsely attended and largely ineffective. Lynette Adams, a member of one of the agency’s advisory teams, said “[these teams] were designed for citizens to communicate with NORDC…unfortunately, the [teams] have no power or authority [and] although we have tried to engage citizens we need to improve the process.”

The improvement process will begin in four weeks when the commission returns to the committee with a progress report. Regular appearances will occur every quarter until the council is satisfied that the department has rectified the bulk of the long-standing complaints from many area residents.

This article originally published in the May 25, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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