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Monroe City School Board member Daryll Berry’s peers elected him to serve as the board’s president in 2021 in spite of opposition from a local black advocacy group and others.

During the School Board’s regular meeting Tuesday, board members elected Berry, who is a convicted felon, on a 4-3 vote.

In 2003, Berry—then serving as a Ouachita Parish Police Juror—was indicted by a grand jury on three counts of public bribery. Those charges were eventually dropped and he was later charged with one felony count of unauthorized use of a movable. In 2005, he used an Alford plea (admitting no guilt) of guilty to the charge. When Berry took office as a School Board member in early 2016, the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s office asked the court to remove Berry because he was a convicted felon. The district attorney’s office later dropped the lawsuit.

After the meeting, Berry told The Ouachita Citizen he wanted to be consistent and work with other board members and the community while serving as board president.

“First of all, I want to be consistent,” Berry said. “I want to make sure the students are safe. I want to make sure that we are good stewards of the funds that we get from the public.”

“I want to respect and work with all the School Board members and get input from the citizens, so that we can be the best community we can be, that way we can educate our kids in the best way possible,” Berry added.

At the beginning of each calendar year, the School Board elects one of its members to serve as the board’s president and one member to serve as vice president.

School Board member Betty Cooper served as the board’s president last year.

Superintendent Brent Vidrine moderated the election of this year’s board officers.

After Vidrine opened the floor for nominations for the position of president, School Board member Brandon “B.J.” Johnson offered a motion to nominate Cooper to serve again as president. School Board member Rick Saulsberry seconded the motion.

School Board member Bill Willson nominated Berry and School Board member Jennifer Haneline seconded the nomination. Willson and Haneline are the only white members of the School Board.

After the nominations, Ambrose Douzart spoke to the School Board before it took a vote on the nominated candidates. Douzart is the president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, chapter for Ouachita Parish.

Douzart claimed Berry’s nomination was “not in the best interest” before he was cut off by Vidrine and Monroe attorney Doug Lawrence, who serves as the School Board’s legal counsel.

Lawrence mistakenly claimed Douzart could not speak about Berry’s qualifications to serve as board president because state law forbade such a discussion. The state law Lawrence referred to pertains to government employees, not elected officials like Berry. Under state law, elected officials cannot discuss an employee’s character, competency or fitness without violating the state’s Open Meetings Law unless that employee has waived their right to a private meeting.

While apparently under the impression that Lawrence’s mistaken remarks reflected state law, Berry said he would not waive his rights. Douzart was not allowed to speak any further.

After a roll call vote, Saulsberry, Cooper and Johnson voted to re-elect Cooper as board president while Berry, Haneline, Willson and School Board member Sharon Greer voted in favor of Berry as president.

After the meeting, Greer told The Ouachita Citizen she received several telephone calls from constituents asking her to refrain from supporting Berry. That did not feel right in her heart, she said.

“It was tight. It was stressful,” she said. “Getting the telephone calls and hearing reasons why I shouldn’t cast my vote for him, but I had to follow my heart.”

“I did it because everybody deserves a chance,” she added.

Greer would not specify why her constituents were concerned about Berry serving as president.

In an interview, Willson explained he nominated Berry because of his working relationship with Berry.

“Mr. Berry and I have formed a friendship and an excellent working relationship over the last six years,” Willson said.

“So I knew that he had more than enough experience and qualifications to not only be president but serve as a very good president, bringing our School Board together in a unique way.”

After Berry’s election, Vidrine conducted an election for the role of board vice president, in which there was only one nomination.

Willson nominated Greer, who won by acclamation.

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