Board elections get heated

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

A new board, a new year and fresh allegations of racial voting sent sparks across the table at Thursday night’s Concordia Parish School Board meeting.

The meeting got off to a rocky start when the election of officers divided the board between two candidates — one black, one white.

Gary Parnham, of Vidalia, who is white, ultimately got the majority 6-3 vote, making him the board president.

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Raymond Riley, who is black, was re-elected vice president. But Riley said during and after the meeting that he felt he was in line for the presidency.

“I think this board is making racist decisions,” he said. “I’m not calling anyone a racist, but I’ve been board vice president for six years. I’m not belittling Mr. Parnham, but I think we just vote black and white.”

The new board — who took the oath of office Thursday — has six white members and three black members.

New board members include Daryle Price, Darlene Baker and Deanie Roberts, all white, and Fred Butcher, who is black.

Returning members include Riley, Parnham, white members Martha Rabb and Ricky Raven and black member Mary Campbell.

Parnham said he did not think race was the deciding factor, and was ready to work hard to serve the district’s children.

“I was elected board president, and I honestly didn’t know that was coming about,” he said.

“I want to work for the betterment of children. My heart and soul is in this and I’m going to be as fair as I possibly can.”

The board also created a new position — parliamentarian — and elected Butcher to serve in the role.

Butcher, a longtime employee of the district who retired approximately six months ago, made the motion to create the parliamentarian position to “intervene and assist the president,” he said.

“We’ve made two parliamentary miscues already,” Butcher said early in the meeting.

“Some things we talk about on this board we refer to the attorney. We are paying him $200 an hour and we could avoid that.”

Board attorney John Guice said he did not make that much money. Guice is on hand at most meetings to answer questions when needed.

The board voted 6-3 along racial lines to elect Butcher, pending a review of parliamentary rules to see if such a move was allowed.

The position is non-paying.

The board also voted in a 6-3 vote to hold their monthly meetings this year on the second Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. Previously, meetings have been on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.

Riley argued to keep the meetings on Tuesdays because he has a commitment at his church on Thursdays.

“I’m not going to miss that to come to a school board meeting,” he said.

Rabb said the move would enable board committees to meet earlier in the week in preparation for the board meeting and would give the business department extra time to prepare reports.

At the close of the meeting, Riley pointed out that three votes went along the same 6-3 voting lines.

“We’ve voted on three things tonight and all of them have been black and white,” he said. “Y’all are working together.”

After the meeting, Riley said he didn’t think the board would ever be able to vote differently.

Raven, part of the six, said his vote was never about race, but about merit.

“I voted for who I thought would be the best president, and he wants to always call the race card,” Raven said. “He kind of proved some of why we don’t want him as president when he was always claiming and blaming the other folks. You don’t berate everybody and the community.”

Raven said he thought the board would be able to work together in the coming year.

Butcher said he too thought the board could learn to work together.

“This is a new board and every board has growing pains,” he said. “When you are a part of a board you’ve got the democratic process and you learn to respect that.”

In other business:

4The board approved the academic calendar for the coming school year. School will start on Aug. 10 and end on May 22.