Cockerham to District 7: ‘The past two years have been an embarrassment to our community...'

by Walter Pierce

"The current majority of this School Board has put itself first rather than the students whom it is supposed to serve."

Photo by Robin May

School board member Mark Cockerham says a temporary move out of the district earlier this year (a circumstance of redistricting) has forced him to resign from his seat with only a few months remaining in his second term. He will, however, continue his campaign to represent the residents of the newly drawn District 7.

[Editor's Note: District 7 school board member Mark Cockerham confirmed Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his seat due to an opinion from the district attorney's office that when he changed his residency earlier this year, he moved out of the current District 7 but into the newly drawn District 7. He will continue his campaign to regain his seat Nov. 4. Below is a letter he released in connection with that announcement. Read more about the challenge to his residency here.]

To the voters and students of District 7 of the Lafayette Parish School System:

Yesterday was a good news, bad news day. The District Attorney's office rendered an opinion confirming that my candidacy for re-election to the Lafayette Parish School System District 7 has not been challenged by my opponent. I look forward to continuing my service when the votes are counted next month. My record of support for our students' success through implementation of the "100% In, 100% Out" Turnaround Plan will continue through the next five years.

It is with great regret that I must announce that I will not be able to complete these last few months of my eighth year of service to District 7 despite every intention to do so. Let me explain why so everyone understands what has happened.

First of all, please notice that I refer to the Lafayette Parish School System and not to the School Board which is supposed to serve it rather than try to rule it. The past two years have been an embarrassment to our community and have served as a poor example to our students. The current majority of this School Board has put itself first rather than the students whom it is supposed to serve.

You may have heard that my opponent filed a lawsuit to disqualify me as a candidate or to prevent me from completing these last three months of my term. She did so without identifying herself by acting through another even though she is a practicing attorney. Only after service of a deposition subpoena did she reveal herself by name as a party to that action.

Over the past two years, I have come to realize that the career path that I was pursuing was not the proper direction for me. While exploring new options, it was prudent for me to reduce my expenses. I am fortunate to have the support of my family particularly my sister who lives in District 7 where I am temporarily residing.

Unfortunately, I have come to learn that she lives in the newly reapportioned District 7 and that does not count toward my continued residency in the old District 7 which I have served for almost eight years. This means that my candidacy for District 7 on the November 4 ballot is perfectly fine but that I am technically disqualified from completing my term this year.

I say this is unfortunate because it was my intention to complete my term in District 7 and it was my sincere belief that I was qualified to do so. That belief was based upon consultations with school system staff, the registrar of voters and, most frequently, my former school board colleague and friend, Mike Hefner. In none of my conversations with them about residency was the fact of the re-apportioned districts mentioned nor was I cautioned about this unique circumstance. However, ultimately, that responsibility is mine and I accept it.
The proper challenge to the qualifications of a public official is provided by state law. The responsibility for making that determination rests with the District Attorney.

In response to the complaint filed along with my challenger's lawsuit, the Office of the District Attorney has determined that I do not meet the current residency requirements to complete this term of office in District 7. While disappointed, I have the highest respect for the Office of the District Attorney. In fact, I supported the continued service of the District Attorney as general counsel to the Lafayette Parish School System, opposed the termination of his services by the current majority of the School Board and share the community's shock at the tens of thousands of dollars wasted on out-of-town attorneys to provide less service at an astronomical cost.

For specific details evidencing my firm intention to complete this term in office and my opposition's efforts to create political advantage for their campaign against me, I invite you to refer to the Clerk of Court record in the lawsuit for which she is responsible. That record includes my formal filings with the Court and with the District Attorney:

Nancy Cech and Dawn Morris versus Mark Cockerham
15th Judicial District Court
Lafayette Parish, Louisiana
Docket Number:  2014-4476 L
Pursuant to the opinion of the Office of the District Attorney, I hereby publicly acknowledge that I unknowingly and unintentionally "vacated my LPSB District seat" on August 20, 2014 based upon my notice of candidacy filed for the reapportioned District 7.

I humbly ask for your support on November 4, 2014.


Mark Cockerham