It seems when it comes to dual officeholding, the Bossier Parish Police Jury just can’t find its way to following the law.
The Jury deliberately injected itself into controversy over dual officeholding law when it sanctioned the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District by reappointing to the governing board Robert Berry in 2018 after he became executive director of the agency in 2014, shortly after the Jury had named him to the board. That now has gone to litigation, with judges so far allowing this to go on (apparently confused in supposing that statute draws a distinction between ability to and acting on that ability to influence the board when it doesn’t) but a Supreme Court stop seemingly inevitable (although the Jury may try to moot this by not reappointing Berry when his term is up in the middle of the year).
Legal maneuvering in this case has gone on for over two-and-a-half years and made some headlines. But under the radar all this time and before there have been multiple jurors also in violation of the same law in regards to the parish’s Library Board of Control.
Statute sets membership of a parish Board at five to seven members, one of which is the presiding officer of the governing authority or his designee. The law doesn’t specifically exclude jurors or other elected officials in a parish from serving, but that is inferred from the general prohibition on dual officeholding.
Yet from 2016, in contravention of state law the Jury has had at two of its own appointed to the Board, initially as part of a seven-member collective. By 2021 it had reduced the number of members to five but ensconced three jurors. Then, last fall, the Board takeover went on steroids, with Republican Juror Glenn Benton joining Republican Jurors Bob Brotherton and Doug Rimmer, who had served since 2016 and Democrat Juror Charles Gray who had started service a couple of years earlier.
This addition apparently occurred in the October meeting; in keeping with the Jury’s penchant for opaqueness, minutes for October and November meetings are not in the public domain. It also apparently was at that meeting that Parish Administrator Butch Ford became acting library director, after the resignation of longtime director Heather McEntee, as well as the Board, now four-fifths jurors, suspending its rules with a new set as yet unrevealed publicly.
The takeover became complete in time for 2023, with GOP Juror Julianna Parks added to fill the last heretofore non-Jury slot to complete the last year of a five-year term. No public statement has been released about why the Jury has decided to make the Board essentially its subcommittee.
Regardless, these actions have occurred illegally. And it’s not like jurors or parish attorney Patrick Jackson, who could advise them, didn’t know about it. Not only has there been the ongoing turmoil around the Jury’s appointee to the Cypress Black Bayou board Berry, but only days ago, in a document addressing controversy about age-appropriate books available to children in parish libraries, Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s office unambiguously explained the legality of jurors serving on boards of library control: “Louisiana’s Dual Officeholding and Dual Employment Law prohibits a member of the governing authority from serving in an office that they have the authority to appoint. The law provides that the governing authority appoints citizens to the library board of control. The governing authority may not appoint a member of the governing authority to the library board of control.”
This incident adds to a growing pattern of lawlessness that started with the Berry reappointment in 2018. Last year, Ford was made parish administrator despite his not being a registered voter in the parish, surely known to jurors and Jackson over a year ago when that happened. Only after this deficiency was publicized did Ford change his registration, only to run afoul of another law that requires a registrant if he has a homestead exemption to register at that location; Ford as of publication continues to have a Caddo Parish homestead.
Now there’s this. Jurors continue to do a disservice to parish residents by openly and repeatedly flouting the law to cater to their personal preferences, inviting corruption that stains the parish and makes a mockery of their oaths of office.