Growing discontent with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission focused in on the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Vic Richard as residents and former staff members on Wednesday blasted what they described as an organization that is not providing adequate services and is plagued by a “crisis of morale.”
The meeting came as City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell is proposing an ordinance that would strengthen the City Council’s representation on the commission and make clear that the board — rather than the city administration — is responsible for hiring and firing the agency’s leader.
“We have an obligation not just to respond but to act,” Cantrell said of the numerous complaints leveled by residents.
After the meeting of the council’s Community Development Committee, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration said Richard continues to have the mayor’s full support.
No action was taken on Cantrell’s proposed changes on Wednesday, with other council members urging they be put on hold until a consulting group has time to finish a review of NORDC’s operations later this year.
A representative of the Boston Consulting Group said he would take Cantrell’s proposals into consideration as the firm evaluates the commission’s work.
Residents at Wednesday’s meeting blasted NORDC’s performance, reiterating some of the concerns raised at a meeting earlier this year that accused the agency of being poorly managed and failing to communicate with residents and booster clubs.
In addition, former employees and union representatives said Richard’s leadership style has been harsh, contributing to massive turnover within the organization.
Heather Larson, an organizer with Service Employees International Union Local 21LA who has been meeting with the employees, said 99 people have left NORDC during Richard’s tenure.
“As we talk about making a strategic plan for NORDC, something has to be done about the continuing crisis of morale in the organization,” Larson said.
NORDC, a public-private entity, was created with a 2010 City Charter amendment that eliminated the city’s former Recreation Department. The goal was to shake up the department, seen as badly underfunded and inferior to those in other cities, and give the city the ability to leverage private funds for recreational programs.
Landrieu spokesman Brad Howard pointed to improvements made to the city’s recreation programs since that time, including a doubling of the budget from $5 million to $12 million a year and the building of $157 million in facilities.
“Vic Richard has been a great leader for NORDC, and he has the full support of Mayor Landrieu,” Howard said in an email. “Under Mr. Richard’s management, NORDC is now a professionally run recreation department that is providing our residents enriching opportunities from organized team sports to arts, music, dance and more.”
Some speakers, however, said NORDC has been disorganized and not communicative with residents, leading to events that are canceled at the last minute, confusion about whether programs are running and a general lack of activities such as baseball. They also raised concerns about ongoing maintenance issues at some facilities.
The 13-member commission consists of the mayor and two of his top aides, a City Council member, the heads of the Recovery School District and Orleans Parish Public Schools, the chairmen of the City Planning Commission and New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation, as well as mayoral appointees representing each of the five council districts.
Cantrell’s amendment would give each of the two at-large council members a nomination, replacing the two administration officials, and spell out that the council members themselves would nominate the representatives from their districts. That would give the council’s appointees a significant presence on the board.
It would also specify that the agency’s chief executive officer can be hired or fired by the commission itself, something Cantrell said was already part of the law but had been unclear. And it would require the commission to conduct an annual evaluation of its officers, something that Cantrell said hasn’t been done in recent years.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.