Threats of recalls and firings from fight over community center conditions

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Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 7:00am

A community center in North Baton Rouge has divided the community it serves.

The state of the Jewel J. Newman Community Center has led Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks Daniel to consider firing its director, while some angry community members have suggested recalling her from office.

Banks Daniel gave FOX44 a tour of the facility Wednesday.

In 2011, the Metro Council voted to take authority over the parish's five community center away from the mayor-president's office. Since then, the council member of the district in which the center resides has oversight of it.

Banks Daniel said she has used the center off an on throughout her life, and worked there for a time many years ago. She took office at the start of this year, and began investigating the center's management early this summer.

She has had discussions with the parish attorney's office about removing Carl Slaughter, the center's director. Slaughter is considered a classified employee of the city-parish, so he cannot be removed without a hearing, and he may appeal to the civil service board. Slaughter is the only director of the five community centers to be a classified employee.

Banks Daniel claims Slaughter does not pay enough attention to the facility.

"This center is open 9-5," she mentioned. "There are no center staff here, and it's 3:30 p.m., and I've been here since 3:00 p.m."

The community center does not have a working phone. The only phones in the facility are located in Banks Daniel's council office and the primary care clinic, which is self-managed.

Banks Daniel showed FOX44 the center's two locker/shower rooms. There was barely enough room to walk through them because they were filled with chairs, tricycles, workout equipment, arcade games, cleaning equipment, and even a bird cage.

"These are functioning, working showers, but who can use them?" Banks Daniel asked.

A recreation room contained pool tables, table tennis, air hockey, and arcade games. But much of the space was filled with office furniture. Banks Daniel added that some of the items in that room were personal property, and not city-parish property, and created a liability of someone hurt themselves.

Down the hall, a small exercise room contains several pieces of equipment, including treadmills, stationary bikes, stair climbers, and a punching bag. It also had pieces of equipment and miscellaneous items strewn across the floor.

"There are thousands of dollars of equipment in here, but it's like a storage room," she exclaimed.

"We have all kind of youths that are on the street, BRAVE. Well, the equipment is here, where are the youth? How could they use it? How could they maintain it? Do they even know it exists?"

Audits conducted by the city-parish finance department show numerous repeated issues, including missing receipts, class fees that were not traced to a bank deposit, and the use of prenumbered contracts in which each contract had the same number.

"So there's no way to know how much money is coming in, how much is leaving out," Banks Daniel said.

The audits also show a unique and substantial decline in revenue generated by events. During the period of 2007-2009, the Leo S. Butler and Delmont centers had roughly no change in revenue; the Chaneyville center lost 30 percent of its revenue, and the MLK Jr. center doubled in revenue. The Jewel J. Newman center, on the other hand, lost more than two-thirds of its revenue, decreasing from $28,924 in 2007 to $9,010 in 2009.

The center also offers services, which Banks Daniel said do not work as they should. The food bank sits behind a door with two signs, one reading, "Instruction Room A," and the other reading, "Employees Only." She said she would like the room, which currently has boxes of food in no apparent order, to resemble a store, like the food bank at Hope Ministries, so the visitor has more control and a more dignified experience.

"We also have a computer lab," she said, attempting to open a locked door. "There are hours, but I honestly have never, ever seen anyone in there."

Across the hall, Banks Daniel opened a door labeled Minority Youth Employment Program. The small room had a couple of tables covered in boxes, including one that was stacked high with snack food. Nothing in the room suggested anyone could use it to search for a job.

"With North Baton Rouge being a dynasty for jobs, but not necessarily having the workforce, I believe that if we can have a training center that we can offer to businesses and industry in this area, then it would be close to residents, and we could aid in making sure people are college- and career-ready," Banks Daniel said.

A rally is scheduled to be held at the center on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. in defense of Slaughter and in support of the movement to recall Banks Daniel from office.

"I hope it's not just a situation where people are just talking and shouting, and laughing and making accusations, but they actually are coming with their sleeves rolled up and they're really ready to work," she said. "Because I'll meet them here if that's their purpose."

She also mentioned that she has formed an advisory board for the center, and that approximately ten people had signed up. The council will meet every month with the goal of determining the best uses for the center.

Slaughter did not respond to phone calls asking for comment. FOX44 also reached out to his attorney, who was unavailable.  

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