City Council to consider ordinance giving it more control over recreation commission _lowres

Advocate staff photo by A.J. SISCO -- New Orleans District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell speaks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Southern Food and Beverage Museum on O.C. Haley Boulevard Monday, Sept. 29, 2014.

The New Orleans City Council would have more influence over the composition of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission under an ordinance headed for a vote Thursday.

The measure, sponsored by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, gives each of the five district council members a nominee on the 13-member committee, rather than allowing the mayor to chose those appointees. It also removes two members of the mayor’s administration from the commission and replaces them with appointments by the two at-large council members. One council member also would remain on the commission.

Cantrell has been pushing for more City Council control of the makeup of the board in light of complaints from residents who say the 5-year-old, quasi-independent recreation agency is not accountable to their concerns.

Allen Thompson, a consultant from the Boston Consulting Group who is evaluating the commission for a foundation that supports local recreation programs, told the council’s Community Development Committee on Wednesday that the commission occupies a unique position between being a part of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration and being an independent entity. That, Thompson said, could create problems if the administration’s priorities clash with the commission’s.

The consulting group’s report found that the organization was experiencing growing pains and high staff turnover, something Thompson attributed to the stress of starting up the organization. He said there was no evidence of mismanagement at the agency.

Thompson did not weigh in on whether NORDC should be more or less independent from the Mayor’s Office, but he did say it should seek its own millage and other funding sources — including potentially more self-generated revenue such as fees or rental charges — to maintain its independence if it wants to avoid potential conflicts with future administrations.

NORDC was created after voters approved a City Charter change in 2010 that created the semi-independent commission and a fundraising arm, the NORD Foundation, to improve recreation in the city. Since then, the annual budget for recreation has grown from about $5 million to about $12 million. Staffing has increased from 80 to about 170.

But residents at Wednesday’s hearing called for more accountability.

“The community is not sitting at the table where decisions are being made,” Sandra Ewell said. “There can be significant growth and success with NORDC if more persons from the community, parents and stakeholders are allowed to be appointed.”

Some residents also raised concerns the commission was setting the stage to privatize the agency.

Council members said those fears were unjustified.

“This is like, ‘I’m really opposed to the Martians coming down and taking over City Hall.’ It’s that far outside the realm of belief,” Councilwoman Stacy Head said.

Several residents said the concern grew after they heard NORDC was planning to seek bids for companies to run its swim programs. Commissioner John Sibal said those requests focused only on swim programs now run by the Red Cross, which recently increased the amount it charged NORDC for those programs.

Discussion of the ordinance came as Landrieu announced five nominees to the board starting in 2016: Corinne Marcus, Bivian “Sonny” Lee, Theodore Sanders, Criminal District Court Judge Byron Williams and Brian Egana. They will be discussed by the council in January.

The administration expressed no opposition to Cantrell’s ordinance at Wednesday’s meeting.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.