BENTON, La. – The executive director of a Bossier Parish recreation district is being targeted for removal on two fronts with separate but similar court petitions filed at the parish and state levels.
Attorney General Jeff Landry was the first to call for the removal of Robert Berry from the top executive position at the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District. Landry notified Berry in July he is in violation of a state law by dually serving as a board member.
The legal opinion prompted no action from the district nor Berry so Bossier Parish District Attorney Schuyler Marvin in August filed a petition asking a judge to weigh in.
District Judge Charles Jacobs in early September gave Berry and the district’s board 60 days to file a response to the declaratory judgment sought by Marvin, who is asking the court to decide if Berry’s dual role is a violation, as Landry’s opinion states. A definite court date wasn’t set but the granted extension would make the responses not due until at least early November.
“We obviously have a great deal of respect for the attorney general’s opinion, but we do disagree with it,” said attorney Alexandra E. Vozzella, who represents Berry and the district’s board.
She added that the board has been dealing with "a lot of false information."
Meanwhile, Landry has ramped up his continued opposition to Berry remaining in office by filing his own lawsuit to stop Berry from “continuing to violate” the state law. Landry said he personally met with Berry and told him he was in violation.
“Nevertheless, Mr. Berry brazenly refuses and steadfastly refuses to resign from one or his two positions,” Landry stated in his petition, adding Berry’s “willful disobedience of the law” gave him no choice to have him “expeditiously removed from office and reimburse the district for the taxpayer dollars he illegally receives to this very day.”
Landry said he received communication from concerned citizens, as well as state Rep. Dodie Horton about Berry’s status. And he said an ethics complaint has been made against Berry.
An Oct. 29 trial date is set on Landry’s petition; however, Landry said in a motion filed Monday he wants to expedite Berry’s removal and has asked the judge to hold a trial before the end of next month.
Berry’s attorney, Ron Miciotto, has asked the Bossier District Court judge to toss out Landry’s lawsuit because Marvin’s was filed first. He also wants more time to respond.
Berry was appointed by the Bossier Parish Police Jury to the district’s board on March 15, 2011 and most recently re-appointed on June 6, 2018. The board hired him as the executive director on Dec. 9, 2014.
Marvin’s petition states Berry’s appointed position and employed position are contrary to a state law prohibiting incompatible offices. He wants the judge to declare either Berry’s board seat vacant or end his employment as executive director – whichever would come open first.
The district is composed of five commissioners who must be qualified voters in Bossier Parish and also live and own property within the district’s boundaries. Each member serves a five-year term.