Teens question recreation center changes in Chattanooga

Teens question recreation center changes in Chattanooga

March 5th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

CSAS team members crowd the field to congratulate Jamani Greer (21) after she hit a home run against Baylor Tuesday at Warner Park.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.


• The City Council also took the first step to restructure the Youth and Family Development fees. The city will begin offering outdoor pool season passes and will allow adult sports leagues to extend their tournament schedule.

Lurone Jennings

Lurone Jennings

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Moses Freeman

Moses Freeman

For 11 years Jamani Greer has practiced softball at the city's Washington Hills Recreation Center. And since she was 6 years old the center's director, Dennis Leftwhich, has helped coached her.

She's played in national tournaments with a local traveling softball club, even won a big scholarship to a Louisiana college next year. And the 17-year-old Chattanoogan credits Leftwich with driving her to that success.

"It's been because of him giving me the opportunity and the life lessons I've had growing up that I am who I am," she said.

That's why Greer, a senior at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, said she helped with a petition to ask the city to bring back Leftwhich to the recreation center.

Leftwhich is one of 10 facility directors or management employees to be reassigned within the city's 17 recreation centers, that have been renamed Youth and Family Development Centers.

When Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke took office last year, he eliminated the city's Parks and Recreation Department and created the Youth and Family Development Department, appointing Lurone Jennings the director. Jennings said he and his leadership team spent three months evaluating the leaders at each of the city's centers before they started reassigning positions in November and February.

After the latest round of reassignments, the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union questioned Jennings on behalf of Leftwich, a 30-year city employee, and another city employee, Shneka Whaley, both members of the Service Employees International Union.

Since then about 80 teenagers in the neighborhood surrounding the Washington Hills center have signed the petition to have the employees brought back to the center, said Stephen West, a trustee with the local SEIU chapter. He said the concern is that the changes will hurt the kids in the community where those employees have become role models.

"That's just wrong," he said. "These kids respect them and know them."

But Jennings said he strategically made the changes to better the entire community. None of the reassignments were demotions, but lateral moves. He said he plans to make more leadership changes.

"We're looking at the big picture," Jennings said. "Of course the community gets stuck and set on the people they've had for years. But things change. My role and my authority was to figure out how to get the best players on the teams with the skill sets they have and talent to make a better department."

Along with getting the neighborhood to sign a petition, Greer recently went before the City Council to ask whether city officials would help get her coach back at the center.

Councilman Moses Freeman, who said he's known Greer her entire life, told the teen the council wouldn't question Jennings' leadership changes.

"We like Mr. Jennings and we trust him to make the correct and appropriate decisions," Moses told Greer.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.