Despite Headline to Contrary, Lee Sheng Is Fired Up to Overhaul JP Playgrounds
KENNER — At an Oct. 13 event hosted by the Jefferson Chamber at the Chateau Country Club, Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said she was “gutted” to read what she described as an inaccurate headline in that day’s edition of The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.
The paper’s top story was headlined “Lee Sheng shelves playground plan,” but Jefferson Parish’s top official said that’s not the case.
Lee Sheng, whose plan to rethink the way the parish uses a half dozen of its 27 community playgrounds caused a recent backlash from parents, said she and her team plan to continue their efforts to overhaul the system — but only after getting more feedback from the community.
“The process has been a difficult one, but it has been the most engaging and exciting process of my political career,” Lee Sheng told the 350 attendees at the sold-out “State of Jefferson” event. “And we have withstood a battering at our community events. When I say hundreds of people have been yelling at us, I mean that literally, and we’ve stayed and listened. Mario [Bazile, director of the Jefferson Parks and Recreation Department] and I have been the last ones to leave, but we’re turning things around very quickly.”
The administration’s original idea was to scratch seasonal sports leagues at some of the parish’s least-used playgrounds in favor of using those sites as “academies” that focus on specific sports. Last week, parents at a meeting at Lemon Playground in the Shrewsbury neighborhood were vocal in their disapproval of the idea. More concerns were raised Monday at an event at Avondale Playground.
Four more meetings are planned.
“So when I get a headline like today … it makes things harder because people are are gonna be like, ‘I don’t have to go right now because she’s stopping.’ But nothing could be further from the truth,” said Lee Sheng. “So I need to get the word out that we are pushing forward. I want people at these meetings even if they’re gonna yell at me, because I’m not giving up on the kids. The council is in lockstep with me. We are all going to bring home a big win for our kids.”
Lee Sheng said the plan to rethink recreation started with the idea of increasing access to high-quality sports training. Also, because some of the parish’s playgrounds serve several thousand kids and some serve less than 100, the resources across the board aren’t equal.
“Sports is not the way it was in the 1970s when I grew up at Lakeshore playground and had an incredible experience,” she said. “And I want to give that experience to every Jefferson Parish kid. We lose kids [to club sports] that cost a lot of money. So that means the athletes who get the best training are the kids whose families can afford to do that. And that doesn’t sit well with me. Everyone should be able to excel in the sport of their choice and be able to make a high school team, and they need Jefferson Parish recreation to give them that specialized experience all year long. That’s one of the things we’re trying to address.”
Jefferson Parish Council Chairman Ricky Templet and Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta also spoke at the “State of Jefferson” event. Templet highlighted projects in each council district and Skrmetta reported on the state of the parish’s utilities and discussed factors that have led to rate increases.