Noel Eugene "Gene" Byars Sr.
|Mayor of Minden, Louisiana, USA|
December 31, 1982 – January 30, 1989
|Preceded by||Jack Batton|
|Succeeded by||Robert T. Tobin|
|Born||July 4, 1939|
Place of birth missing
|Political party||Democratic Party|
|Spouse(s)||Cecilia O'Rear Byars|
|Children||Noel E. Byars Jr.|
Noel Eugene Byars Sr., known as Gene Byars (born July 4, 1939), is a retired educator from Beaumont, Texas, who served from 1982 to 1989 as the mayor of Minden, the seat of government of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana. A Democrat, Byars was recalled at the midway point of his second term, January 21, 1989, through a citizens' initiative after it was revealed that he had charged the city for personal expenses on his municipal credit card.
Byars' parents were Noel Randolph Byars (1908–2003), a Minden banker and a native of Bearden, Arkansas, and the former Thelma Rowland (1909–2002). His paternal grandparents were Benjamin Joab Byars and the former Lucy Jane Chambliss. Byars, who is Baptist, graduated from Minden High School in 1957. He married a Minden High School classmate, the former Cecilia O'Rear (born March 8, 1940). The couple has three sons and a daughter, Jo Anna, who was a Miss Minden contestant a few months prior to her father's election as mayor.
Byars received his bachelor's degree in education and his master's in school administration from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. In 1970, he left a position in Bossier City as coordinator and regional consultant for the Northwest Louisiana Supplementary Education Center to become the director of data processing in education Region 18 in Lubbock, Texas. Byars indicated that he would work on a doctorate in education through Texas Tech University while he was living in Lubbock.
Election as mayor
In 1982, Byars was a sixth-grade teacher at Phillips Middle School in Minden and a board member of the Selective Service System of Northwest Louisiana. He ran for mayor when the one-term incumbent, Jack Batton, a local businessman and civic figure first elected in 1978, declined to seek a second term. Batton had also served on the Minden City Council, originally as streets and parks commissioner, from 1946 to 1962 and again from 1966 to 1978. He was the younger brother of former Webster Parish Sheriff J. D. Batton.
Byars said that his lack of political experience was an asset because he was "not obligated to any person or political faction". He would demand, he said, greater openness in city government because many municipal employees were fearful of speaking out: "I plan to stop this immediately and to offer any and all the opportunity to speak up without fear of reprisal." Six years later, Mayor Byars instead ordered city employees not to meet with media representatives.
The Minden Press-Herald editorially opposed Byars' election and urged that he withdraw from the race. A newspaper investigation questioned his past employment record and his suitability for managing municipal finances.
In the 1982 primary election, Byars led two other candidates. One was the insurance agent James Tenney "Jim" Branch Jr. (June 27, 1927 – June 15, 2010), a native of St. Louis, Missouri, a graduate of Louisiana State University, a former president of the American Legion, chairman of the Minden Medical Center board, the 1984 Minden Lions International and Chamber of Commerce "Man of the Year", and a former member and president of the Webster Parish Police Jury whose service began in 1968. In 1973, Branch had won reelection to the police jury by three disputed votes over his African-American intra-party opponent, Joe Kirk.Kirk then filed suit against the Webster Parish Democratic Executive Committee, having alleged that not all of his votes had been counted. Byars' other opponent was J.E. "Pat" Patterson, Batton's predecessor as mayor from 1974 to 1978. Byars polled 1,957 votes (42.5 percent) to Branch's 1,446 (31.4 percent), and Patterson's 1,207 (26.2 percent).
In the all-Democrat general election, as permitted in Louisiana, held on November 2, 1982, Byars handily defeated Branch, 2,642 (57.3 percent) to 1,968 (42.7 percent), despite the editorial posture of the local newspaper. Voters also replaced the police chief, Jim Lee Stanfield (1937-2007), with businessman Chester Adcock (1925-1995), 2,721 (59.5 percent) to 1,852 votes (40.5 percent).
Byars hence assumed the mayor's office on December 31, 1982. He soon ran into problems with the city council. In 1984, the council denied Byars new office furniture and accessories until he could "show where he has the authority to purchase furniture and accessories or show us the items [earmarked] in the budget." Byars said that the council by its questioning of him had ignored the voters' intent and sought to nullify the last mayoral election.
He also quarreled with the council regarding a proposal new city charter, which Attorney General William J. Guste had urged Minden to adopt.
Reelection in 1986
Byars won his second term in 1986, having defeated his predecessor, Jack Batton, who returned to the political fray for one last race for mayor. Batton used the slogan, "Get an Old Pro Off the Bench." Byars listed his own accomplishments from 1982 to 1986 as $830,000 in street improvements, $9 million in new industry, and three hundred new jobs brought to the city. Byars prevailed, 2,603 votes (53.6 percent) to Batton's 2,252 (46.4 percent). It was Batton's last political race.
1988 congressional race
On March 8, 1988, nearly a year before he left office as the mayor of Minden, Byars ran for Louisiana's 4th congressional district seat in a special election to choose a successor to Buddy Roemer who was elected in October 1987 as governor of Louisiana. Byars had indicated that his knowledge of budgets and municipal finance would have strengthened his candidacy despite a lack of name recognition outside of his city.
However, Byars polled only 2,018 votes (2 percent). Another candidate in the special election was Stanley R. Tiner, formerly the editor of the since defunct Shreveport Journal, who had been the managing editor of the Minden Press-Herald briefly from 1969 to 1970. A Webster Parish native reared mostly in Shreveport, Tiner placed third in the contest. The second round of balloting was held between then State Senator Foster Campbell of Bossier Parish and a former Roemer aide, Jim McCrery of Shreveport. In the showdown McCrery prevailed and held the Fourth District seat until he retired effective January 3, 2009.
Recall election, 1989
The recall against Byars, based on his intermingling of municipal and personal financial accounts, was brought forward in the summer of 1988 by Minden businessmen Thomas L. Hathorn (born 1951) and Billy Sherman Cost (born 1948) through the interest group, "Citizens for Responsible Government for Minden", which used telephone banks to procure the needed 2,500 signatures, representing one third of the registered voters. Hathorn said, "The citizens of Minden have given this man the benefit of the doubt. They gave him a chance to redeem himself, and I don't believe he has done so." 
In the last few days of the drive, Hathorn said that the citizens group "targeted people who were non-petition signers." Byars tried to derail his opponents by forming a counter group to contest the legitimacy of the recall by claiming that many voters had been coerced into signing the petition. Two hundred seventy eight names had been whited-out around the signatures to remove marred spots were deleted from the petition, but more than enough signatures remained to proceed with the recall election. The state district court and the court of appeal both rejected Byars' challenge, and declared that the recall could proceed. Hathorn said that he had expected Byars to wage "some kind of challenge [but] we didn't push the petition in any way", followed the proper legal procedures, and relied on voluntary efforts. The Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear Byars' appeal to block the election.
The recall election engendered a 52 percent turnout of the city's then 7,934 voters. The electorate removed Byars from office before the expiration of his second term, 3,241 (78 percent) to 914 (22 percent). He lost all fourteen city precincts.
A month later Byars was convicted of felony theft by a six-member jury in the 26th Judicial Court. He had unsuccessfully sought a change of venue on the criminal charges. The court determined that Byars cashed a $2,166.60 personal check on July 22, 1987, to his personal account, but $1,815 of that amount was to have been distributed to eleven other individuals for expenses incurred in regard to a fact-finding trip to Nevada in May 1987 concerning nuclear waste disposal. Byars was also found to have altered travel receipts for double reimbursement.
Byars permitted a son, Richard Byars (born c. 1968), to use the long distance phone card in the amount of $2,473.15. The younger Byars said that he had thought the telephone card was the connection to the municipal WATS line and was unaware that his calls were costing taxpayers. Richards Byars was found guilty of felony theft.
While Byars could have faced ten years imprisonment and heavy fines, District Judge Harmon Drew Jr. of Minden lectured him on ethics and sentenced him to five thousand hours of community service. Byars was initially ordered to teach inmates at the David Wade Correctional Center in Homer in Claiborne Parish over a four-year period. Judge Drew said that he had "bent over backwards to be fair" in the case though Byars had complained that officials had a "political vendetta" against him.
However, Byars never served the five thousand hours of community service nor taught at the Wade Correctional Center. The Louisiana Supreme Court said that Judge Drew's sentence was excessive for the crime committed and ordered a resentencing. Drew instead reduced the sentence to $1,000 in fines and court costs and allowed Byars' work on a booklet that he had written, Louisiana Teachers Guide, count as the public service component of the sentence.
Judge Drew questioned why Byars had been compelled to leave two undisclosed school systems in Texas and required to make restitution for funds that he allegedly misused: "The disturbing thing is your pattern of behavior. You consistently denied wrongdoing [in Texas], and the bottom line is that no criminal charges were filed." Drew further accused Byars of having misled the Webster Parish School Board when he procured doctoral compensation while employed by the local school system for a degree from the University of Sarasota, which Drew called a "diploma mill". Drew added: "Your poor judgment has made you and your family suffer a great deal." Drew delayed implementation of the sentence pending Byars' appeal by his attorney, Richard Goorley, to the state circuit court of appeal. However, the circuit court in turn declined to overturn Judge Drew's ruling.
On conviction, Byars forfeited the mayor's position. On February 6, city council member Robert T. Tobin, a retired African American educator and church deacon, was named interim mayor. Tobin served until his defeat in the special election held in November 1989.
Byars' legal troubles corresponded with two other developments in city government. Felony theft charges stemming from the questionable accounting of $500 in city expenses were brought against Police Chief Chester Adcock. City clerk Lydianne Scallorn, later Lydianne Hammons, was removed from her position on accusation of having approved bids without council consent. The city council also removed supervisory authority from the clerk's position. In 1992, Scallorn received a $225,000 settlement from the city, which chose to pay the judgment rendered by the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, rather than to appeal.
Though an unnamed city coucilwoman had in an interview with a newspaper in Monroe once called Byars "a perpetual candidate", his political career ended quickly with the recall. Byars soon relocated from Minden to Beaumont.
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- Minden Press-Herald, March 27, 1982, p. 1
- "People's Bank Names [Noel Randolph] Byars Vice-President", Minden Press-Herald, June 13, 1973, p. 1
- "Noel Byars", Minden Press-Herald, September 25, 1970, p. 1
- "Byars, Adcock easy victors", Minden Press-Herald, November 3, 1982, p. 1
- "Dr. Noel Byars candidate for Minden mayor's post", Minden Press-Herald, April 27, 1982, p. 1
- Sonny Jeane, "Mayor orders city employees not to meet with news media", Minden Press-Herald, July 24, 1988, p. 1
- "Press-Herald urges Byars withdraw", Minden Press-Herald, October 27, 1982, p. 2A
- "Jim Branch is Man of the Year", Minden Press-Herald, February 1, 1985, p. 1
- "James Tenney "Jim" Branch Jr". Shreveport Times. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
- "Branch Wins Jury Seat by Three-Vote Margin," Minden Press-Herald, October 1, 1973, p. 1.
- "Kirk Files Suit Against Democratic Executive Committee," Minden Press-Herald, October 30, 1973, p. 1.
- "Louisiana primary election, September 11, 1982". staticresults.sos.la.gov. Retrieved May 21, 2013.
- "Louisiana general election returns, November 2, 1982". staticresults.sos.la.gov. Retrieved May 21, 2013.
- "Byars will fight council decision", Minden Press-Herald, February 9, 1984, p. 1
- "I'm a firm believer in a new charter", Minden Press-Herald, July 29, 1983, p. 1
- "Mayor Byars in for second term", Minden Press-Herald, September 28, 1986, p. 1
- "Byars Mulling Roemer's seat", Minden Press-Herald, November 4, 1987, p. 1
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election returns, March 8, 1988
- "Minden citizens organize movement to recall Byars", Minden Press-Herald, August 21, 1988, p. 1
- Marilyn Miller and Bill Specht, "Byars ousted!", Minden Press-Herald, January 22, 1989, p. 1
- "Judge dismisses Byars' lawsuit", Minden Press-Herald, December 20, 1988, p. 1
- "Court of appeal rules today on recall challenge", Minden Press-Herald, December 23, 1988, p. 1
- Sonny Jeane, "Supreme Court refuses to hear Byars' appeal", Minden Press-Herald, p. 1
- "Recall support solid in all precincts", Minden Press-Herald, January 24, 1989, p. 1
- Sonny Jeane, "Byars trial to stay here", Minden Press-Herald, December 9, 1988, p. 1
- Marilyn Miller, "Byars convicted of felony theft: Could face a maximum of ten years in prison", Minden Press-Herald, February 24, 1989, p. 1
- "Jury finds younger Byars guilty", Minden Press-Herald, October 19, 1988, p. 1
- Marilyn Miller, "Byars gets public works sentence: Must spend 5,000 hours teaching Wade inmates", Minden Press-Herald, April 28, 1989, p. 1.
- Marilyn Miller, "Byars wins resentencing bid", Minden Press-Herald, July 3, 1990, p. 1
- "Byars receives reduced sentence Friday: 5,000 community hours set aside by judge", Minden Press-Herald, October 21, 1991, p. 1
- "Robert Tobin appointed interim mayor", Minden Press-Herald, January 31, 1989, p. 1
- "Adcock back on job, claiming innocence", Minden Press-Herald, September 1, 1988, p. 1
- "City clerk's post stripped of power", Minden Press-Herald, October 28, 1988, p. 1
- Marilyn Miller, "Scallorn: 'I'll fight with public's help'", Minden Press-Herald, October 30, 1988, p. 1
- "Scallorn fired as city clerk", Minden Press-Herald, January 11, 1989, p. 1
- Jeff Benson, "City will pay ex-clerk $225,000 in settlement", Minden Press-Herald, October 13, 1992, p. 1
- "Byars: 'I'm not a perpetual candidate'", Minden Press-Herald, March 20, 1988, p. 1
| Mayor of Minden, Louisiana
Noel Eugene "Gene" Byars Sr.
Robert T. Tobin (interim)
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