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District 8 school board member Connie Bernard listens to comments during a meeting of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Thursday, June 18, 2020, at the Professional Development Center in Baton Rouge, La.

The board of East Baton Rouge's parks and recreation system voted 7-1 Thursday to seek the removal of embattled school board member Connie Bernard from its ranks. 

But that decision almost didn't happen after hackers took over the board's virtual public meeting and started playing music riddled with the lyrics "f*** all those n******!" and flashing lewd images on the screen as BREC commissioners were discussing their issues with having Bernard on the board.  

The online Zoom meeting had to be abruptly ended and then resumed a few minutes later so the board could make a quick decision regarding Bernard before hackers could interfere again.

It was the second time that day a public meeting had sustained an attack from "Zoombombers." A virtual public hearing Build Baton Rouge tried to host earlier Thursday had to be rescheduled because hackers interrupted it also. 

BREC spokeswoman Cheryl Michelet said Thursday night was the first time one of the parks and recreation online meetings fell victim to hackers. 

The move to oust Bernard comes as activists — including several fellow school board members — prepare to start on Monday a campaign to recall Bernard from the School Board over comments she made about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and her behavior at a recent board meeting.

Bernard, who was present at the start of Thursday's BREC meeting but later deserted before the item against her came up, received some support from Commissioner William Scheffy, the lone vote against the request to have her removed from the commission. 

Scheffy said asking that Bernard be removed is the commission getting involved in something it really has no purpose being involved in.  

"We're opening up a can of worms we might not be able to put the lid back on," he said. "Why does BREC want to get involved in something that's only going to cause problems down the road? This is a School Board matter that's being addressed on the School Board in various manners." 

Commissioner Jerry Jones brought up Bernard's pending legal troubles over allegations she physically assaulted a teenager two years ago, an allegation he cited as his reason for not wanting to serve alongside her. 

On Aug. 10, 2018, Bernard was videoed in profanity-filled confrontation she had with several young people having a party down the street from her home. Sheriff’s deputies issued her a misdemeanor citation for entering and remaining after being forbidden.

She pleaded not guilty. Those charges are still pending before state District Judge Ron Johnson.

"This is about common decency," Jones said. "The president of the School Board knew her history and then turned around and sent her over to us. Having someone like this on our board only brings more attention to this board that we don't need."

The School Board has one representative on the nine-member BREC commission. Bernard was appointed to that slot this year and has attended only a few meetings.  

Lloyd Benson, the BREC commission chairman, said he privately asked School Board President Mike Gaudet to appoint someone else on the commission, but Gaudet refused.

"I believe we could have taken care of this without making a scene," Benson said. "This is a very serious matter. All the commissioners are in agreement with me so I believe the resolution will pass."

Gaudet said Thursday he would not make a snap decision.

“I told them I would not make any knee-jerk reaction,” Gaudet said. “That position on BREC is an appointment at the pleasure of the School Board president.”

Bernard has raised the ire of many in the community since a June 10 interview in which she said anyone offended by the name Lee Magnet High School should "learn a little more" about Lee, the Confederate general for whom the school was named.

Then, during the June 18 meeting in which the School Board voted to create a commission to come up with different names for the school, activists posted videos of her appearing to shop for dresses amid the discussion. A video from one activist, Gary Chambers, blasting Bernard went viral nationally, with prominent figures like NBA basketball player LeBron James commenting on it.

Bernard has apologized for her comments about Lee, calling them "insensitive." But she has denied that she was shopping at the meeting, claiming it was a pop-up ad that she neglected to close. Several witnesses disputed her contention.

Bernard has rejected calls for her resignation; a recall effort to have her removed from office launched this week.

Organizers of the recall effort said their campaign starts in earnest Monday. They are working out the logistics of trying to get the necessary 8,000-plus signatures, or 25% of the registered voters in District 8.

They have 180 days to do so. They can submit the petition before the 180 days expires.

The campaign will involve knocking on doors and operating phone banks to reach out to residents.

“We’re really doing some grassroots, logistical organizing right now,” said Ciara Hart, director of communications for the petition drive, which is calling itself the #ByeConnie Movement.

A successful recall petition would set up an election where District 8 voters would cast ballots "for" or "against" recalling Bernard from office. If enough voters press “for recall,” Bernard would be removed from office, setting the stage for a special election to replace her.


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com