Gonzales Soccer Club contract “a back-room deal?” Turf war brewing over Recreation

The problem with whirlwind romances, aside from annoying everyone not part of the courtship, is that they tend not to last (we have no scientific data to support the conclusion).  In October Ascension’s Council Recreation Committee gushed all over newly-appointed director, BJ Romano, who hit the ground running after his September appointment by President Kenny Matassa.  The appointment elicited withering criticism from Committee Chairman Travis Turner whose ire had shifted from Romano to Gonzales Soccer Club at the most recent Recreation meeting.

Turner’s council docility is well-known but there’s one area of parish governance sure to quicken his pulse and perk up his ears.  His chairmanship of Recreation is no accident.  In September he termed the interview process resulting in Romano’s appointment “a dog-and-pony show” with a predetermined outcome.

“It’s almost the same reason the administration stays in the paper now,” Turner opined of Romano’s September “political appointment…It will reflect badly on the parish.”

Sort of like…

“National Search” for new Infrastructure Director to last 4 DAYS

But all seemed well in October, a month into BJ Romano’s tenure as Recreation Director.  To a man the Recreation Committee members fawned over Romano’s lead-from-the-front style which saw several parish parks cleaned up for the first time in…well, nobody could really say.  One of Matassa’s first hires in 2016 was Recreation Director Brandon Berthelot, son of co-defendant Olin Berthelot, which was an unmitigated disaster (assuming anything in the Recreation Department could possibly qualify as a disaster).

Berthelot the Younger’s tenure as Director lasted a couple of weeks when he was demoted to a newly-created position, Recreation Supervisor.  He would be fired outright after failing a second drug test in early August, within a week of “the Matassa Tapes” being published.  Brandon Berthelot was political patronage which Matassa could no longer afford to stash on the parish payroll.

Rickey DeArmond, a longtime parish-employee in DPW, was stuck as Interim Director of Recreation until BJ Romano’s appointment.  Romano brings an energy to the position that DeArmond lacked because the latter was only bailing the Matassa administration out after the walking, not quite talking, fiasco that was Brandon Berthelot.

BJ Romano is caught between the Council’s version of Scylla and Charybdis…

It is a dilemma not of his own making.

In August a lukewarm Recreation Committee recommended approval of the parish’s Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with Gonzales Soccer Club which ceded control of newly-constructed playing fields to the club.  It did not sit well with Chairman Turner then and he is less enamored of the agreement now.

“Gonzales Soccer Club has a parish facility to call its own,” Turner said during Thursday’s Recreation meeting.

A lengthy discussion came about during Director Romano’s presentation of Agenda Item (5) “Basketball Registration update.”  The Council’s other champion of recreation, Aaron Lawler, inquired as to why Gonzales Soccer Club (GSC) is required to maintain an insurance policy protecting Ascension Parish from potential liability claims when other sports are not.  Lawler singled out Ascension Youth Basketball Association for comparison, having been denied contractual documents between AYBA and the parish.

He had to know that would tweak Chairman Turner to whose heart AYBA is held near and dear.

“Nobody else is getting the same benefit that Gonzales Soccer Club has right now,” Turner justified the different treatment.  “They helped get fields built  before they even had a contract in place; which tells everybody they had something cut before anything was supposed to be done.  A backroom deal basically.”

Lawler countered that citizens have been denied access to baseball fields when they were rented out to private teams.

BJ Romano, two months on the job, attempted to assuage Councilman Lawler’s concerns, to little effect.  Romano acknowledged that questions have arisen with regard to GSC’s contract with the parish; which drew the councilman’s rebuke:

“This is not about soccer, BJ!”

It certainly seems to be a turf war, though.