Police Jury: Cypress Black Bayou executive director under fire at meeting

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Stacey Tinsley/Bossier Press-Tribune Rex Moncrief speaks to the Bossier Parish Police Jury about issues with the Cypress Black Bayou Park’s budget.

Stacey Tinsley | Bossier Press-Tribune

At last Wednesday’s Bossier Parish Police Jury meeting, the jury heard from Cypress Black Bayou landowner Renee Hall regarding a petition that has been signed with a little more than 500 names of Bossier Parish residents asking the Bossier Parish Police Jury to remove Executive Director Robert Berry from the board of the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District.

“I want to make the disclaimer that this has to do with the Cypress Black Bayou Board and they have filed a lawsuit against us, but this has nothing to do with our lawsuit,” Hall said.

“We want to inform you of some things that are going on. It’s the ‘Taxpayers for Better Government’ is the petition you’re about to receive. It’s not just ‘Friends of Cypress Black Bayou’ anymore. We have people all over the parish that are wanting change at the park.” 

“Right here in my hand I have over 500 signed petitions from people all over the parish that would like you to ask for Mr. Berry’s resignation. What he is doing is breaking the law,” she added.

Robert Berry serves as the Executive Director of the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District. 

Berry also serves on the district’s Board of Commissioners. He was appointed by the Bossier Police Jury.

A July 20, 2020,  Louisiana Attorney General’s opinion determined that Berry’s position as a Commissioner and an employee of the District was dual office holding, which is prohibited by Louisiana law.

That dual role is what is at the center of the two lawsuits aimed at Berry. 

On Aug. 19 Bossier District Attorney Schuyler Marvin filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment naming Berry and the District as defendants. 

Hall continued to speak to the Jury about the petition and how Cypress Black Bayou residents are being treated when they attend a board meeting.

Before the conclusion of Hall’s remarks, Police Juror for District 3, Philip Rodgers, asked Bossier Parish Attorney Patrick Jackson if he would look into the situation and report back to the Jury.

“I think we’ve heard enough, Patrick, that I’d like for you to look into this and see if there is any basis for this and then report back to us,” said Rodgers.

Hall wasn’t the only Cypress Black Bayou landowner who came to speak at Wednesday’s Police Jury meeting. 

Resident Rex Moncrief said to the Jury that he’s taken a look at the math and questions how the park stays afloat. 

“It is true that only 62 or 64 of the 82 precincts are under the taxing authority of Cypress Black Bayou. But I would remind all of the police jurors that these folks all vote, and all of you have to vote on appointing whoever the Executive Director is,” Moncrief said.

“I’ll put it real simply. I ran the math, using their own budget numbers. Even pulling out the legal fees, which average about $100,000 a year, pulling out some of the other fees, the park is still losing $500,00 to $600,000 a year. They have revenues of about $400,000 a year based on park revenue. But their payroll is over $500,000. The math doesn’t work,” he added.

After Moncrief concluded his remarks to the Jury. District 8 Police Juror Doug Rimmer asked Jackson, “Patrick, he just stated that we voted for the Executive Director. I don’t recall that being within our purview,” said Rimmer.

Jackson’s reply to Rimmer, “No sir. You just appointed a board member.”

Following Jackson’s answer to Rimmer. District 11 Police Juror Tom Salzer asked Jackson, “Other than appointment of a board member, do we control anything else on the board or at that park,” said Salzer.

Jackson replied, “No Sir.”

Berry was first appointed to the board in March 2011. He was re-appointed in June 2018. The board hired him as executive director on Dec. 9, 2014.

For clarification to the audience and to the Jury, Jackson stated that a lawsuit that deals with Berry’s position at the park will be heard in court at the end of the month. 

“The lawsuit will be heard before the 26th JDC on the 24th of this month,” said Jackson.

Following the remarks made by the Cypress Black Bayou landowners. Attorney Alexandra E. Vozzella, who represents Berry and the Cypress Black Bayou board in the lawsuits, addressed the Police Jury.

“As Patrick has said a little while ago this is actually before the 26th JDC right now. A court is going to be hearing it. The hearing on it has already been set on Nov. 24, so, just a couple weeks away. No one is trying to prolong this any further. So, I would just ask that you allow the court to make a determination, allow the court to do its job, essentially,” Vozzella said.

“A court needs to decide this. Mr. Berry and the district deserves to have their due process on this. And that is all that I am asking for today,” she added.