Something incredible started happening in Baton Rouge on April 28, 2021. At the Natural Resources and Environment Committee hearing on Representative Dodie Horton’s HB630 bill to start reigning in the appointed bureaucrats with the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District, the Good Ole Boy Network of Bossier City was put on full display and notice.
As a reminder, the Bossier City Council introduced a resolution to oppose HB630, led by Councilman David Montgomery and current mayor Lo Walker. Several of the Bossier Parish Police Jury members have openly expressed doubts about HB630 and getting it through the legislature.
“The existing laws are adequate and protect the people whereas this bill is only attempting to help a few special interests and that it attempts to intimidate the commissioners and remove sovereign immunity…” – Representative Landry reading an email from Benton, LA
After Representative Horton gave her opening summary of the bill, she was supported by Bossier Parish resident and attorney Shannon Thornhill Brown. They both explained that the bill, as amended, simply gives the local appointing government entities a fair mechanism to remove an appointee if ever necessary. As the law is currently written, there is no removal process except by the Cypress District commissioners themselves.
As a counter argument to the email read by Rep. Landry, Shannon Brown addressed the many issues concerning property owners and the Cypress District commissioners at the monthly meetings. Citizens are not allowed to ask questions and have been threatened with removal from the meetings by a Deputy Sheriff for simply asking questions. The intimidation comes from the appointed bureaucrats who are armed with a litany of attorneys paid by tax dollars.
It is also interesting to note that on April 20, 2021, Mel Allen, acting as President of the Cypress District, hired a special interest lobbying firm, Southern Strategy Group of LA, specifically to fight HB630. The taxpayers in Bossier Parish literally funded $15,000 of taxpayer money to a special interest group to fight a bill that is supported by a majority of the same taxpayers who are being accused of helping special interests. The hypocrisy and irony of the whole situation is maddening.
“If this isn’t a violation of the dual office holding law, then there shouldn’t be a law.” – Angelique Freel, Director Civil Division, Office of Attorney General Jeff Landry
Also, present at the committee hearing were two of the assistants from the Attorney General’s office. Their review of the open meetings complaints and violations by the Cypress District left no doubt in the committee members minds. The Cypress District bureaucrats need reigning in. The Attorney General’s office has even required an open meeting training session which has yet to be taken advantage of by the Cypress District.
As a matter of fact, the ladies informed the legislators that the Caddo Parish law firm representing the Cypress District had not submitted their contracts to the Attorney General’s office for approval as required. This is the same law firm that was paid over $247,000 in taxpayer money in 2020. It is also the same law firm whose partner, Curtis Shelton, attempted to intimidate taxpayers at a public meeting and threatened to remove people.
“The appellate level is the first place you might get a true chance at some justice. Why? Because in a lot of especially small areas there are power bases in place that control boards, councils.” – Representative Cormier
Angelique Freel brought up the fact that the first assistant district attorney was the brother of the judge in the dual office holding lawsuit against Robert Berry. That same assistant district attorney had recently been the personal attorney to Robert Berry. Representative Cormier then relayed the fact that he had been involved with the FBI and the Justice Department in his own parish for corruption. While he did not outright accuse Bossier Parish of being corrupt, he stated that he appreciated a bill like HB630.
“I think it’s very sad that we have to be here today to try to change legislation because someone was told no to do something, they don’t want to follow that, then you’re not getting the right way in the court system so we go to the legislation to change the legislation. I just don’t believe in that.” – Robert Berry, Bossier Parish Police Jury Appointed Commissioner
Robert Berry, the embattled Executive Director of the park and commissioner, addressed the committee members and literally complained about citizens redressing their grievances through the courts and the legislature. Berry literally stated he does not believe in that. Representative Coussan reminded him that the Cypress District was created by a revised statute and could certainly be amended by the legislature.
A red card opposing the bill was presented by Bossier City and Bossier Parish by Ginger Corley, who is a paid governmental relations consultant and lobbyist for both the city and parish. The amended HB630 passed the Natural Resources and Environment Committee hearing by unanimous vote. It now moves on the House floor and, if approved, on to the Senate.
The Good Ole Boys network is on full notice and this legislation, if passed, is a major shot across the bow. That is why the Cypress District is such an important topic to follow.