Iberville School Board’s struggle to select a president doesn’t have an end in sight _lowres

Ed Cancienne

Determining who’s going to serve as president over the revamped Iberville Parish School Board could drag on for months — even years — if the board’s recent deadlock over the decision goes unchanged.

One of the board members who could break the 4-4 tie between the two front-runners doesn’t appear eager to bring closure to the matter.

Yolanda Laws, who also wants to serve as board president, has said she is not willing to throw her support behind either of the two top contenders, Melvin Lodge and Darlene Ourso.

“If I choose a side, I feel strongly the board will stay split,” Laws said. “If I choose to go with Mr. Lodge, will his leadership create a consensus among the board? No, because he’s been president for the past 10 years, and we’ve never had a consensus.”

“And Darlene’s leadership style is not the style I prefer,” Laws added. “Her style is more about putting our dirty laundry out in the open, trying to sabotage people. I don’t like that.”

Some board members said Laws should drop out of the race for the leadership position because the only support she has is her own vote. If she is forced out, Laws has the option to abstain from voting, and she said she is thinking of doing that, which could mean the board is without a sitting president unless someone on the two sides changes their vote.

Choosing a new president was the source of much confusion and back-and-forth bickering at the School Board’s first meeting last week. The decision on who will lead the board followed the 2014 election in which the public selected for the first time only nine members.

Last year, the board was forced to adopt the nine-member redistricting plan — made up of eight single-member districts and one at-large member — due to the passage by the state Legislature of a 2010 bill sponsored by former state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete.

At the time the decision was made, the reduced number of board members was considered a positive change by several former members who said a smaller body would minimize some of the infighting that has played out at past board meetings.

But much to the audience’s annoyance during its first meeting, the School Board’s failed attempts to pick a president due to the deadlock may be an indication things won’t go as smoothly as some thought.

However, Schools Superintendent Ed Cancienne remains positive the board’s latest rift won’t hinder the school district’s progress.

Because the board could not seat a new president, Cancienne must take on the position’s duties, which is mainly to preside over monthly meetings and special meetings, if required.

“The district is going to move forward. I’m optimistic about this new board,” Cancienne said.

Contributing to the board’s deadlock was the absence of a board policy for how a president should be selected.

The School Board was forced to reference Robert’s Rules of Order at the January meeting because it lacked its own election policy.

But even that stirred up more disorder as board members argued with board attorney Louis Delahaye over their varying interpretations of the reference guide for public meetings.

Several members argued the board should have voted on the three candidates for board president — Lodge, Ourso and Laws — in the order in which they were nominated. The others agreed with Delahaye’s interpretation that board members were to voice their picks during a roll call vote — which the board ended up doing three times only to reach the same results.

Board members Chris Daigle, Theresa White Roy, Pam George and Ourso cast votes in favor of Ourso becoming president. Lodge received four votes to continue as the board’s president. Voting for him were Michael Hebert, Polly Higdon, Glyna Kelley and Lodge.

Laws nominated and voted for herself.

Ourso convinced members in an 8-1 vote to adopt a policy on how board officers should be selected before the board makes another attempt to choose a president. Hebert was the lone dissenting vote for the measure.

“I’ve been blessed to be on the board for 12 years and have been trying to get some of my ideas across but have just been hitting road blocks,” Ourso said about her desire to serve as board president. “I think we need a strong president, someone that’s not going to be controlled by another person or wrapped up in the politics. I’ve showed in the past Mr. Lodge’s hands are tied because of politics.”

Lodge did not respond to telephone calls last week seeking comment.

Laws said each of the opposing sides have offered to support making her the board’s vice president if she voted in their favor.

But she’s not ready to give in yet, nor will she be forced to, she said.

“(Lodge’s side) likes the superintendent presiding over the meetings because his views are their views,” Laws said.

“I’m just hoping after we’ve gone through this we can heal, because people look at the Iberville Parish School Board as a joke,” she said.

The board is expected to revisit the matter at its next meeting on Feb. 9.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.