8 Council members put unnecessary gym before children’s safety

The budget amendment including diversion of $3 million to pay for a gym at Lamar Dixon Expo Center

If District 7 Councilman Aaron Lawler is to be believed, a risky proposition at best, eight Parish Council members put an unnecessary basketball gym before the safety of Ascension’s children.  On March 21 the vote was 8-3 to amend Ascension’s 2019 budget to loan $3 million ($2,780,000 of it for gym-related expenses at Lamar Dixon Expo Center) to the Recreation Department from the General Fund.  Fast forward to April 11 when CAO Ken Dawson convinced four members of Recreation to seek a 2% interest loan for installation of LED lighting at the parish’s various parks.

As to the gym the plan is to repay the General Fund from Recreation’s future budgets, approximately $300,000 annually over the next decade.

With regard to lighting parks, the shorthanded Recreation Committee recommended a $25,000 expenditure to hire Pivotal Engineering in the hopes it can secure up to $3 million from Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources’ State Revolving Fund (SRF).  At 2%, if Pivotal delivers the full amount, debt service would commit another $400,000 from the next ten threadbare Recreation budgets.  That is assuming the full council agrees with Recreation and, if so, $700,000 of Recreation’s precious allocation will be tied up in debt service for a decade.

Councilman Lawler, as is his wont, slobbered on the praise for parish employees performing their job duties (or maybe not since Ascension cannot seem to produce any actual job descriptions).

“As we’ve heard in recent weeks, we have a huge problem with lighting, especially at our baseball and softball fields.  It’s dangerous.  We, literally, have lights falling down, we have lights out…

If you’ve ever played baseball you know it’s hard to see a ball as it is, especially if you get older like me.  But even for a kid it’s very dangerous if you don’t have proper lighting out there.”

No one could possibly argue with any measure aimed at promoting the safety of our kids; and we do not do so here.  Just like Councilman Todd Lambert, we do point out that the safety of those kids should have taken precedence over the building of a gym expansion at Lamar Dixon which no one can defend (although we are giddy that Lawler tried)…

On behalf of Gonzales: Thank you Aaron Lawler

What if Pivotal fails to deliver the loan?  Is the Council going to spend another $3 million on recreation even as so many infrastructure deficiencies demand attention?  Are Aaron Lawler’s colleagues so heartless as to allow a situation, “for a kid it’s very dangerous,” to persist?

One thing seems beyond debate, the safety of Ascension’s children should have come before…

Sausage making and secret “sidebar discussions” equal a new gym for Travis Turner

NOTE:  For those more inquisitive readers, those who strive to be “In the Know,” we summarize the comments by three other Recreation Committee members.

Councilman Oliver Joseph confirmed the only action Recreation was taking on April 11 was to engage Pivotal Engineering’s services; “the dollar value, when they come back, they have to come back to this committee so we can prioritize what we gonna do.”

Councilman John Cagnolatti asked one question of Recreation Director BJ Romano.  It concerned whether the new lighting would be LED.  Romano responded in the affirmative.

Chairman Travis Turner: “I think it’s a very good idea; and it includes everybody.”

In other business the committee considered the viability of disassembling and relocating the skate park targeted for demolition by President Kenny Matassa’s administration.  Chairman Turner expressed his intention to “keep it on the agenda until” they figure out how, where, how much, etc.