More than two dozen Jefferson Parish playgrounds allow booster clubs to operate on their property without any signed leases governing the arrangements, which violates the law and could leave the parish liable in case of accidents, according to a report released Tuesday by the parish Inspector General’s Office.
The report from Inspector General David McClintock’s office also said the Terrytown Playground Booster Club spent tens of thousands of dollars buying uniforms from a company owned by the son of the park supervisor, setting up the kind of potential conflict of interest that parish officials should avoid.
In response, Parish President Mike Yenni’s administration promised to ask the Parish Council to approve amendments to ordinances regulating the booster clubs, which raise money for youth athletics programs by selling concessions, holding fundraisers, securing sponsorships and soliciting donations.
But it remains to be seen whether those efforts will fare any better than similar ones undertaken by former President John Young’s administration, which the report said offered amendments that the Parish Council ultimately never considered.
McClintock’s office said it started out to review the Terrytown Booster Club’s finances from the beginning of 2012 through the end of 2014 after receiving complaints that it had mismanaged its funds. That review led to the discovery that the parish has not had lease agreements with any playground booster clubs since Dec. 31, 2010.
Jefferson’s laws require booster clubs to have leases with the parish to operate at publicly owned playgrounds. Nonetheless, booster clubs without leases raised money on the grounds of 11 East Bank parks and 14 West Bank ones during the period covered by the report, the report said.
Jefferson officials blamed the lack of leases in recent years on a disagreement between the Recreation Department and the Parish Attorney’s Office. The two agencies differ on several issues: whether booster clubs should be made to register as nonprofits, whether they need to have insurance and workers compensation and whether they need to hire accountants, the inspector general’s report said.
Either way, McClintock urged the parish to execute lease agreements that would protect the parish from being held responsible for dealings connected to the booster clubs.
The report also found it troubling that the Terrytown Playground Booster Club bought $33,736 in uniforms from Allstar Printing, owned by the park supervisor’s son. Neither individual is named in the report, but public records identify Michael Hennessey Jr. as the company owner and Lillian Hennessey as the playground supervisor.
Part of Lillian Hennessey’s role as supervisor is to ask the park’s booster club to purchase new uniforms whenever she considers it necessary, the report said.
“The parish should prohibit transactions with vendors that may create a conflict of interest and/or the appearance of a conflict of interest with an employee of the parish and/or a booster club officer,” it said.
Other findings about the Terrytown Booster Club mentioned in the report are:
— Even though there is no evidence that the club is certified as tax-exempt, it did not file any tax returns during the period covered by the report.
— Cash collections by volunteers were not verified with receipts because the club does not utilize its cash register or cash register tapes in totaling the receipts. The club also occasionally paid up to $40 in cash to concession stand workers, demonstrating “a lack of controls around cash distribution (that) increases the opportunity for fraud, waste and abuse.”
— No accounting system tracks the club’s revenue, expenses or profit. Only one signature is needed on club checks, and the sole authority over the group’s transactions is the treasurer.
McClintock’s office acknowledged that it issued its report after reviewing a single booster club. But it said most of the problems it highlighted are rooted in inadequate parish oversight, a condition applying to all playground booster clubs in Jefferson.
Young’s administration said it permitted the booster clubs to operate at parish playgrounds despite not having leases because they operate “for the benefit of the children ... who use the facilities,” according to the report.
Clinton “C.J.” Gibson, the recreation director under Young, was retained when Yenni took office in January.