Sharon Parnell Appointed Registrar of Voters

03/04/2020

Acting Lincoln Parish Registrar of Voters Sharon Parnell was last night appointed to that job by a unanimous vote of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury, after an hour-long interview process, and another illegal executive session of the body.

Last night’s meeting heard from the four applicants for the job – Parnell, Vanna Sasser, Bethany Collie, and Dustin Hampton.

Jury Personnel Director LaTonya Lacey asked each of them several questions: Why are you interested in the position, what do you understand the duties to be, what uniquely qualifies you for the position, describe experience in budget preparation and administration, what resources would you rely on to stay current, what do you see as the biggest challenge, salary expectations, availability, and why you are the best candidate.

Juror Theresa Wyatt asked each of them about their plans to facilitate registration throughout the parish.

Parnell touted her experience.

“I have worked in the registrar’s office for fourteen years. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown a lot. The reason that I would like to apply for the registrar’s position, you know, I truly love what I do,” she said.

Sasser said she was a fast learner.

“I learn very quickly, I’m great with number, and I have good attention to detail,” she said.

Collie said she is a Lincoln Parish native, as is her family, and that part of her present job in the clerk’s office is dealing with local elections.

“From working in the clerk’s office, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also built relationships with many members of the Secretary of State’s Office that come in during election season. I’ve used their system,” she noted.

Hampton answered Wyatt’s question about registration efforts.

“I would love to institute, if given this opportunity, mobile voting registration. One day we have a mobile unit in Dubach, one day in Simsboro, one day in South Ruston,” he said.

Hampton said that he had seventeen years experience in the Jackson Parish Clerk of Court office, much of it in elections. He still does information technology consulting work for them, he said.

The jurors were given a rating sheet to score each of the applicants in the different areas.

In making the executive session motion, juror Logan Hunt did cite the proper statute and the requirement for notification of the interviewees 24 hours prior to their interview, but the prohibition “However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body…” was ignored.

After a 15 minute closed session, the jurors voted unanimously on a motion by Hunt to appoint Parnell.

The pay issue is actually set by the legislation that created the office, LA RS 18:55.

The Lincoln Parish job will pay $64,188/yr plus benefits for the first year. Included in the pay schedule are 3% (approximately) raises for each of twelve consecutive years. Additionally, the position is eligible for any cost-of-living increases awarded to state employees.

Businesses Added/Deleted from Tax District

03/03/2020

If the Ruston City Council approves at next month’s meeting, several new businesses will be added and some closed businesses removed from Ruston’s Economic Development District No 1. A resolution was approved and an ordinance was introduced at last night’s meeting toward that end.

The district was created by Ruston’s City Council, and levies an additional sales tax of 1.75% on the business located therein. The tax became effective 1/1/2019. Since it’s creation, several business properties have been added and removed.

The council also approved a contract with Diamond B Construction to relocate a portion of LA Hwy 146 at the south end of Ruston Regional Airport’s runway to allow lengthening.

The contract amount was $1.54 million.

City Treasurer Laura Hartt is resigning, and will be replaced by Julie Keen. That action was approved by the council.

Keen had been at First National Bank, and is a CPA. Hartt had been the Parish Treasurer prior to taking the city job two years ago.

Jury to Pick Voter Registrar Today

03/03/2020

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury will late this afternoon pick a new Lincoln Parish Registrar of Voters in a special called meeting of the body.

The four candidates – Sharon Parnell, Vanna Sasser, Bethany Collie, and Dustin Hampton – will be interviewed individually beginning at 5:30 PM.

The meeting begins at 5:20 PM, Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor.

Here’s the agenda.

2020-2021 Lincoln School Calendar Released

03/02/2020

The 2020-2021 school year calendar for the Lincoln Parish School District will be reviewed and considered for adoption at the regular monthly meeting of the Lincoln Parish School Board set for Tuesday, March 3, 6:00 PM.

Here is the agenda.

First day of classes for students is Friday, August 14, 2020, with classes scheduled for half a day. The first full day of classes will be Monday, August 17, 2020.

Teachers will report a week earlier, on Friday, August 7, 2020. The last day of classes for students will be Monday, May 24, 2021.

See here the schedule.

Another action item is the May salary supplement check, set for award on 5/21/20, should the bard approve. Certified personnel will be paid $5,825, and non-certified $2,913.

See here the memo.

Also on the agenda is the personnel report.

Ruston City Council Monday

03/01/2020

Ruston’s Board of Aldermen will have their regular monthly meeting tomorrow, Monday, March 2, 5:30 PM, Ruston City Hall, 401 North Trenton.

Here’s the agenda.

Monroe Judge Holds Hearing on 2nd Circuit Controversy

02/28/2020

Fourth Judicial District Court (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) Division C Judge Wilson Rambo yesterday stayed discovery by the plaintiff Jeff Mercer in his lawsuit seeking to overturn a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned an earlier jury verdict

The original 2015 jury trial awarded Mercer damages of $20 million after the jury found that Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development employees harassed and intimidated Mercer after he rebuffed a shakedown scheme from those employees. Mercer’s company at that time had several ongoing projects with the DOTD.

The 2nd Circuit ruling completely voided the jury verdict, because they claimed the jury was improperly instructed.

A year after that verdict, the 2nd Circuit’s Chief Judge Henry Brown abruptly retired after he was caught trying to influence the decision of fellow court members in a case involving a “close female friend” of Brown’s.

Mercer in his lawsuit alleges that Brown improperly influenced his adverse ruling, and has subpoenaed court records and documents that he says would prove his assertion.

In yesterday’s action, Rambo, clearly uncomfortable at having to hear a case that involves a court that supervises him, stayed any discovery from Mecer, and also denied the defendant’s motion to quash Mercer’s subpoenas. He later amended that denial to say that it would be held in abeyance until other matters could be ruled upon.

Rambo also did most of the talking during the 2 1/2 hour long hearing, and said that the other matter involved ruling on a motion from the defense claiming that the plaintiff had no cause of action to sue. Rambo said he would issue that ruling soon.

Jay O’Brien, one of the DOTD attorneys, argued that his clients did nothing wrong regarding the 2nd Circuit’s ruling.

Said O’Brian, “Where’s the ill practice?” on his clients part.

Mercer’s attorney, David Doty, said that what the 2nd Circuit did deprived his client to his right of a fair hearing, and that the documents sought were necessary to show what happened.

The 2nd Circuit’s attorney, Bernard Johnson, said that production of documents would jeopardize the court’s ability to deliberate freely without fear of their work papers being made public.

Johnson, on behalf of the 2nd Circuit, had filed a motion to seal all the court’s papers.

Doty replied that there was an overwhelming public interest in finding out whether or not the court acted properly, and that the people had a right to know.

Groundhog Day @ LPPJ

02/26/2020

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury last night met in a twenty minute executive session to discuss the appointment of Registrar of Voters for Lincoln Parish. We believe that session was not legal.

Last night’s meeting of the jury was almost identical to a July, 2017 meeting where a jury committee illegally met in executive session. Both involved the interview and hiring of public employees.

It was reminiscent of the the movie Groundhog Day, where a TV weatherman caught in a time loop, repeatedly reliving the same day.

Here is the provision that is troubling:

LA RS 42:17 Exceptions to Open Meetings

A. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:
(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which such executive session is to take place and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body

In 2017, the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office admonished the jury for their behavior, and we have again complained to the DA and asked that they insure the jury and its employees are properly educated as to the requirements of the Open Meetings Law.

The meeting opened with jury Administrator Courtney Hall suggesting that executive session, to which a motion was made by District Five’s Logan Hunt and seconded by District Twelve’s Annette Straughter.

Local political activist Bill Smith, who frequently attends jury, school board, and city council meetings, objected.

After the 20 minute session, Smith renewed his questions, but was often ignored by jury President Joe Henderson.

Said Smith, “You are deliberately overlooking me when I got my hand up and I’m telling you that I have a question.”

The jury voted to allow Hall to compose a set of interview questions for the prospective hires, and set next Tuesday, March 3, 5:30 PM for interviews.

The applicants are Sharon Parnell, who is a Deputy Registrar, Bethany Collie, Dustin Hampton, and Vana Sasser.

The jury also discussed the possibility of distributing the agendas and information packets via email, instead of hand-delivering then by messenger to each individual juror.

Also notable at the juror’s table was newly appointed District Three juror Marvin Franks. Though not officially a juror since he hasn’t been sworn in, he sat in during the jury’s executive session.

Special LPPJ Meeting This Evening

02/25/2020

A special called meeting of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury will be held this evening (Tuesday, February 25) at 5:30 PM at the Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor.

On the agenda is discussion/action on the interview process for Lincoln Parish Registrar of Voters.

Here’s the agenda.

Franks ‘Appointed’ to LPPJ after Much Discussion

02/21/2020

Prior to his ‘appointment’ as a Lincoln Parish Police Juror from District Three, much of the discussion at last night’s meeting was about Marvin Franks’ candidacy last fall and whether or not he should have run in the first place.

Jury attorney Lewis Jones, who is also an Assistant District Attorney for the Third Judicial District, explained the federal government’s Hatch Act, its pertinence to Franks’ candidacy, and his eligibility to serve.

Said Lewis Jones, “If he violated the Hatch Act, it was by running for office, it was not by winning, it was not by being sworn in after he won. What I have been told by the Office of Special Counsel, if there was a violation, it was by running. If a complaint is filed, and they’re trying to decide what action to take, the fact that he did not ask to be sworn in, would mitigate in his favor. The fact that he is asking to be appointed would be an aggravating factor. He’s asking y’all to appoint to appoint him to an office that, according to what they told him, he shouldn’t have run for.”

He continued, “They can’t remove him from the police jury. They can take action against him and his retirement and his service with the (Army National) Guard. Once you appoint him, he’s in.”

About two dozen supporters of Franks were at the meeting, and through spokesman Lucius McGee, voiced their support for him.

Said McGee, “The voters spoke. The voters spoke a second time and put him in this position. One person, a bureaucrat in Washington DC decided that he could not serve. That same bureaucrat says he can be appointed to it. We all know that doesn’t make a bit of sense. But that’s the way the law’s written.”

Countered Simsboro resident Keith Canterbury “This thing has been missed up from the very beginning. He shouldn’t have been on the ballot to begin with. We should have some say so, whose going to be appointed, other than the jury appointing somebody.”

It appears that the Office of Special Counsel has said such an appointment is legal. A series of emails between Franks and that office that took place in late January, and the discussion went thus:

From: Franks, Marvin L Jr CW4 USARMY NG LAARNG (USA)
Sent: Monday, January 27, 2020 5:01 PM
To: Hamrick, Erica
Subject: RE: [Non-DoD Source] Hatch Act
Dear Erica Hamrick,

This is an update on my status. On January 13, 2020, when the Lincoln Parish Police Jurors were sworn in, I did not accept the position to which I was elected. According to Louisiana law, I have 30 days after this date to accept the position. My medical discharge from the Louisiana National Guard is in the final stages – I am told by my PEBLO (case manager) that it will be complete in 30 days or less. If my discharge is not complete by the deadline of February 12, I will not accept the police jury position. At that time the seat is then considered vacant and the police jury has 20 days to appoint someone to the position and they must later hold a special election within 12 months. Since according to the law, federal employees are allowed to be appointed to positions, I am asking for your confirmation that I am allowed to be appointed to the police jury position after it becomes vacant.

Thank you,
Marvin Franks

From: Hamrick, Erica
Sent: Thursday, January 30, 2020 6:39 AM
To: Franks, Marvin L Jr
Subject: RE: [Non-DoD Source] Hatch Act
Mr. Franks,

Based on the circumstances you describe below, OSC has concluded that it would not be problematic for you to be appointed to the vacant police juror position.

Erica S. Hamrick
Deputy Chief, Hatch Act Unit
U.S. Office of Special Counsel

As the discussion among the jurors went around the table, it was mostly agreed that the voters had spoken and that Franks should be appointed.

Typical of the comments was that from District Six’s Glenn Scriber, who said, “The people voiced their opinion, and it’s been cleared up that its legal what we’re doing.”

The only no vote was from District Four’s T. J. Cranford, who said he had supported Franks throughout the controversy, but didn’t agree with how the issue was being handled.

The vote to appoint Franks was 9-1-1, with Cranford voting no, and District One’s Theresa Wyatt abstaining. She noted, “I also heard (the discussion) that he won, but that he shouldn’t have run in the first place.”

The jury then voted to call a special election for November 3, the winner of which will serve out the remainder of the term through 12/31/23.

A letter from the Louisiana Secretary of State dated February 13 deemed that “by operation of law,” the District Three slot was vacant.

See here that letter.

In other business, the jury voted to declare a 9300 square foot tract of property near the Lincoln Parish Library as surplus so that bids could be entertained. An appraisal set a minimum bid of $185 thousand for that tract.

QuikTrip Corp. has expressed an interest in the property.

Also, a special called meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, February 25, 6:00 PM to interview applicants for the registrar of voters position.

Donna Doss New LPSB Member, Election Set

02/20/2020

This morning’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish School Board lasted but ten minutes, and as expected Donna Doss of Hico was appointed by the board to replace Mike Barmore who has resigned effective March 1.

District Four covers northern Lincoln Parish from the Union Parish line in the north, southward to near Cypress Creek; and from the Claiborne Parish line in west, eastward to Hwy 33.

See here the map.

That appointment is only until an 11/3/20 election to fill the rest of the unexpired term which ends 12/31/22. A resolution calling that election was also approved.

Remarked Barmore, “It’s been a good 13 years, I’ve enjoyed it, made some good friends, some good people, and I look forward to turning it over to Mrs. Doss. It’s been great – most of it.”

Doss, a 41 year career educator – with 20 years in the classroom – is no stranger to board meetings, often making reports and presentations during her stint at the central office.

She also served as principal at both Dubach and Simsboro Schools.