Thursday, April 28, 2016

JCVB Head Earned Almost $100k in 2014

Who says that you can’t earn a good living running a non-profit?

Violet Peters, the CEO for the Jefferson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (JCVB), was paid $98,035 in 2014 according to JCVB tax returns.The 2015 tax return was not available.

The non-profit spent $464,836 of its $2.1 Million budget (21%) on personnel in 2014. The JCVB received the bulk of its budget, $1.9 Million from government grants including $1.2 Million from Jefferson Parish.

The group spent $1.478 Million, 69% of its 2014 budget, on Advertising.

The JCVB has been under scrutiny after Kenner State Senator Danny Martiny introduced a bill which would direct 100% of Jefferson Parish’s Hotel/Motel Tax to the bureau, bypassing the Jefferson Parish Council and all Parish oversight.

At the last Jefferson Parish Council meeting, the Council deferred a resolution of support for Martiny’s bill by Councilmen Ben Zahn (whose District is served by Martiny) and Jennifer Van Vrancken.

Citing the removal of oversight, Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock was highly critical of Martiny’s bill and the resolution of support. In fact, McClintock suggested that the Council should take the opposite stance and offer a resolution against Martiny’s bill.

The JCVB has operated under a CEA with the Parish and signed a new 5-year CEA in July, 2015. 

The CEA calls for the JCVB to receive a portion of JP’s Hotel/Motel Tax and, in return, subject itself to audit by the Parish. These audits would be removed if Martiny’s bill is successful.

At the Council meeting, Ms. Peters said that Martiny’s bill was essential for the JCVB to have a stable funding source that could not be removed by politicians. She cited a 30-day Cancellation Clause written into the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) with Jefferson Parish.

However, the prior CEAs between the JCVB and the Parish also included the Cancellation Clause, as do other CEAs between the Parish and NGOs receiving tax dollars.  

The Zahn/Van Vrancken resolution was deferred until the May 11th Council meeting. Martiny said that he will not move on the bill until a resolution of support by the Council is passed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

JP IG: Martiny's CVB Bill "Severely Reduces Oversight"

In a position paper released this afternoon (Tuesday), Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock is critical of State Senator Danny Martiny's bill which would direct all of the parish's Hotel/Motel Tax directly to the Jefferson Convention & Visitor's Bureau (JCVB), bypassing the Parish Council.

In the paper, which was prepared in response to a proposed resolution of support brought forth by JP Councilmembers Ben Zahn and Jennifer Van Vrancken, the IG says that Martiny's bill would negate several Cooperative Endeavor Agreements (CEA) between the Parish and the JCVB and "severely reduce oversight" of tax dollars.

The Parish and the JCVB entered into a CEA in July, 2015, for a 5-year tern, Under the CEA, the JCVB is required to "1) provide quarterly narratives of activity; 2) comply with the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics; 3) submit to audit by the Parish; and 4) submit to oversight by the Jefferson Parish Office of Inspector General.."

"Presently, the JCVB is not statutorily entitled to the proceeds of the hotel occupancy tax. Rather, the JCVB is recognized by ordinance as the body who may receive it under a CEA.. The proposed amendment to state law creates a statutory entitlement in favor of the JCVB and effectively eliminates the Parish's ability to ensure accountability and oversight."

"The proposed amendment would also likely excuse the JCVB from performance under the current CEA since the CEA is a bi-lateral agreement providing Parish tax dollars for services. Enforcement rests on the Parish's receipt and control of the revenue."

"The proposed amendment would also adversely affect the Parish's ability engage in meaningful oversight. For this reason, the JPOIG presents the following analysis for consideration and recommends a resolution opposing the amendment to state law." 

Monday, April 18, 2016

With An Assist From Zahn and Martiny, Buisson and JCVB Attempt End Run of JP Council

Our old buddy Greg Buisson is at it again, and this time he’s calling in some political favors.

Buisson is or was political consultant for many current and former politicians including JP President Mike Yenni; JP Councilmen Ben Zahn (more on him in a minute), Paul Johnston, and Ricky Templet;  Kenner City Councilmen Lenny Cline, Maria DeFrancesch, Dominick Impastato, and Mike Sigur;  former JP President Aaron Broussard (a mentor of Yenni); former Kenner Mayor Ed Muniz (also a Yenni mentor); former Kenner Police Chief and now top Yenni aide Steve Caraway; and former Kenner Mayor and JP Councilman Louis Congemi (who was recently defeated in his bid for the JP Council-At-Large seat held by Chris Roberts).

In addition, Buisson has also done work for JP Councilman Mark Spears and Jennifer Van Vrancken.

In fact, if you search the Louisiana State Ethics Administration website under campaign expenditures, you’ll find 50 pages of items listing millions of dollars paid to Buisson and his company.

And, that’s just for campaigns.

Buisson has also parlayed his political connections to gain access to several groups that receive tax dollars and has funneled those dollars to his company, Buisson Creative Strategies.

From Family Gras to the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo; the Jefferson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau  and Patrons of Lafreniere Park (in Zahn’s district) and Mardi Gras parade stands to issues like Yenni’s failed plan to double Kenner property taxes and the failed attempt by the Jefferson Chamber and business interests to keep sucking money from you with 20 more years of the Crescent City Connection toll, if there’s a dollar to be squeezed from the folks he helped elect, Buisson is there with his arms outstretched.

After Buisson used his influence with the JCVB to attempt to host a candidate forum to showcase his client (Yenni), JP Councilman-At-Large Roberts cried “Foul”.

Roberts supported Yenni’s opponent, former Councilman-At-Large Elton Lagasse.

"One of your top vendors is running a campaign, and you guys are deciding to hold a forum,'' Roberts said. "We have a responsibility as the supervisor of tax dollars that are being collected not to allow anyone to believe that there is any conflict or any potential for impropriety.''

After Yenni defeated Lagasse, and fearing more scheming by Buisson with Yenni at JP’s helm and several Councilmembers on his leash, Roberts drafted an ordinance to ban political operatives from receiving contracts with groups receiving parish dollars if they have consulted a campaign for Parish President or the Council.

"Those running and promoting campaigns should not be running and promoting publicly funded events with tax dollars," Roberts said.

While there is clearly no love lost between myself and Greg Buisson, I supported the Roberts ordinance and so did the JP Council (only Buisson clients Zahn and Johnston opposed). There shouldn’t be any conflicts of interest with taxpayer dollars and, in Jefferson Parish and all over for that matter, there are many conflicts.

Buisson complained that the ordinance targeted his business. Calling the ordinance "ill-conceived, poorly written, and hastily considered," which could also describe speeches and press releases Buisson has written for Yenni and Zahn, Buisson filed a lawsuit in Federal Court suing Roberts and Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit is actually pretty funny in its attempt to portray Buisson as a put-upon small business owner with “minor” contracts just scratching his way from paycheck-to-paycheck and fighting big government.

It doesn’t discuss the Millions Buisson has been paid through campaigns and the Millions more he has received through non-profits affiliated with the government. Or the free tuition State Rep. Helena Moreno arranged for Buisson’s son at Tulane.

Now Buisson is pushing a different “strategy” and using the Louisiana Legislature to do an end run around the Roberts ordinance.

Senate Bill 378, promoted by Kenner State Senator Danny Martiny, would mandate the parish’s hotel/motel tax to be “directed” to the JCVB. Currently, the funds go to Jefferson Parish and are distributed by the Council with a large chunk, over $1.2 Million in 2015 alone, going to the JCVB.

Buisson's not content with only get the lion's share of the Hotel/Motel Tax, he wants it all and
Martiny’s bill would give ALL of the hotel/motel tax to the JCVB and put more money in Buisson's pocket..

The bill would only apply to the JCVB and not other parish’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus.

Just what we need – another law that if for a single special interest.

The JCVB already receives all of Kenner’s Hotel/Motel Tax revenue after Yenni diverted the funds to the group rather than find a Kenner-centric organization to promote Kenner after allegations of financial improprieties were uncovered regarding the Kenner CVB.

Then-Kenner Councilman Ben Zahn was a member of the KCVB and a representative of the Council on the KCVB Board. Despite the conflict and Zahn’s approval of City Council funding for the KCVB despite his membership and personal interest, since the KCVB was disbanded, the State IG declined to pursue any action against Zahn.

If you recall, Zahn sued me for exposing the conflicts of interest and calling on the IG to investigate. 

He lost.


When he disbanded the KCVB, then-Mayor Yenni said, “I want to know where our money is being spent.”

I'm still wondering what happened with the vaunted Police investigation Yenni requested.

It’s ironic that, with his political consultant virtually running the JCVB, Yenni is not asking the same question, but, we already know where the money is going – Buisson’s pocket.

At Wednesday’s JP Council meeting, Buisson client Zahn will introduce his own resolution seeking the Jefferson Parish Legislative Delegation’s support for Martiny’s bill (which they will no doubt do anyway, despite its ramifications).

The ordinance is co-sponsored by Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken.

Van Vrancken did not respond to a request to comment.

The Councilwoman’s aide, Jeffrey Simno, while ducking questions regarding the contradictory nature of the ordinance and the lack of transparency, said in an email, The Addendum Item 18 resolution in support of SB378, as put forth by Sen. Martiny, is typical of local council resolutions supporting legislation put forth by the parish’s state delegation.  With JCVB now well-established with a proven track record, we are excited by the possibility of finally bringing JCVB in line with other CVBs throughout the state.” 

 A “proven track record” of what exactly – funneling money to Greg Buisson?

What about transparency or accounting for every public dollar? NGOs like the JCVB that receive public funding need MORE scrutiny, not less as Martiny, Zahn, Yenni and, of course, Buisson, would like.

Councilman Roberts is obviously opposed to Zahn’s resolution and Martiny’s bill.

“It is never a good idea in today's time of increased oversight and accountability to allow a private agency to receive public dollars direct without the oversight and scrutiny of public auditing. Changing this arrangement would disallow the parish internal auditor, the Inspector General, or any other check and balance review of this agency to occur which has proven to be beneficial in rooting out waste and abuses,” Roberts said.

The Jefferson Parish Council will discuss Zahn’s resolution at this Wednesday’s meeting.  The Legislature has not yet put SB 378 on the calendar. We will keep you posted.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sell-Out Chehardy Gets His 30 Pieces (Or More) of Silver

Sorry if it seems like selling out and cutting political deals is becoming a theme of this blog. But, it is what it is.

If you missed my post about Kenner Political Appointee Stephen Petit, the obvious deal he cut and the fact that he now wants to engage in political activity, despite 70% of Kenner voters saying that political appointees should not be involved in politics, click here.

Two years ago, I left the Republican Party. Or, more correctly, the Republican Party left me.

I joined the Republican Party as soon as I was able to vote because I firmly believed in smaller government, less government involvement in our lives and lower taxes. Add that to the fact that I am staunchly Pro-Life and against entitlements, and becoming a Reagan Republican was an easy choice.

The problem is, it is really hard to be a true Conservative Republican.

Conservative Republicans are going extinct.

Just look around.

Mike Yenni a Conservative Republican? Yeah, his propaganda team at the Third Buisson Reich are great at fooling many of you. But, sorry Mikey, Conservative Republicans (at least by my definition) don’t try to double property taxes, take on added debt, and grow government.

Newell Normand a Conservative Republican? Not even close. Newell Normand is one of the most egotistical, power hungry men I’ve ever met.

In fact, I dare you to find a true Conservative Republican anywhere in Jefferson Parish or Kenner government. Despite the vast majority of our elected officials being labeled “Republican”, they wear that moniker simply to get elected and re-elected.

Truth be told, the most fiscally Conservative member of the Kenner City Council is District 1 Councilman Gregory Carroll.

Carroll is a Democrat.

When Ronald Reagan was around, he touted his famous “11th Commandmant” – thou shalt not speak poorly of fellow Republicans.

And that’s how I believed it was, or should be.

You debate candidates on issues, not personal attacks.

I don’t care about the rumors regarding Mike Yenni’s lifestyle or his choices (other than the fact that he attempts to portray himself in a vastly different light). When I ran against Yenni I wanted to beat him because I thought his policies were bad for Kenner.

Same as when I ran against Ben Zahn for Parish Council. I firmly believed that Ben Zahn accomplished little during his time on the Kenner City Council, was severely ethically challenged, and didn’t deserve a promotion to another office that he was not qualified for.

Sadly, as Zahn’s record has proven, I was correct. Aside from siphoning off tourism dollars for some decorative lights on a couple block stretch of West Esplanade and ceding half of Lafreniere Park to the legacy of Al Copeland, I can’t tell you what Zahn has accomplished during his stint on the JP Council.

And, I pay attention so I’m certain many of you couldn’t list Zahn’s “accomplishments” either.

Has he worked to reduce the size of JP Government? Has he reduced taxes? Has he strengthened ethics in JP? Has he reversed Kenner’s overfunding of the bus line, the 911 Call Center or extracted Kenner taxpayers from continuing to pay for Lafreniere Park?

If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you’re not paying attention.

Which brings us back to Sell-Out Lawrence Chehardy.

The former longtime Assessor, who was anointed to the position by his father, retired in 2010 amid the biggest political scandal in JP’s history.

At the time, many speculated that Chehardy cut a deal – provide information on alleged wrongdoing and resign gracefully.

I asked Chehardy myself and he claimed that he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Chehardy was Assessor for over 30 years and, to this date, people consider him to have been a “great” Assessor.

But, what did he accomplish?

Sure, he fought for the Homestead Exemption (who wouldn’t), but he never got it increased.

Did Chehardy modernize the Assessor’s office, make it state-of-the-art befitting the State’s 2nd most populous parish, properly staff it and give us the most accurate assessments possible? Obviously not since incoming-Assessor Tom Capella immediately asked for a huge budgetincrease.

Did Chehardy make assessments transparent? Again, obviously not. When Capella, who was a Chehardy ally, campaigned, one of his platforms was to take politics out of the assessment process.

So, an understaffed, not technologically updated office where assessments were politically based. 

Still think Chehardy was a “great” Assessor?

Since his ‘retirement’, Chehardy has grown his law practice, started a political blog, and still stayed involved in politics.

Chehardy spoke at both of Yenni’s Kenner Mayoral inaugurations. He was the Chairman of Yenni’s Streamlining Budget Committee, which accomplished nothing. What Committee calls a press conference and releases a report before its members have even read it or approved the contents and the report contains suggestions that were not discussed in any of the Committee meetings? 

When I ran against Zahn in 2011, a year and a half after his ‘retirement’, Chehardy issued a venomous, libelous automated robocall against me.

And, he wasn’t the only “Republican” to attempt to disparage my character and falsely accuse of things in an attempt to help Zahn and Yenni defeat me.

“He lived in 30 cities in last 20 years.” Yeah, I still love that one, especially when you consider that I’ve lived in Kenner for 16 years. Must be Common Core math. 

I guess Chehardy never read Reagan's Commandments. 

This Fall, Chehardy was extremely vocal in his criticism of fellow Republican David Vitter during Vitter’s run for Governor. Chehardy publicly crossed party lines (as did Newell Normand and others) and endorsed John Bel Edwards.

Now, it’s no secret that Chehardy has hated Vitter throughout the years but to publicly support a Democrat, especially a Democrat like Bel Edwards, raised eyebrows. 

At least I'm in good company - Chehardy hates me and David Vitter. 

To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with voting for someone that belongs to a different political party than you or supporting a friend. But, it’s one thing to support a fake Republican like Mike Yenni, but to endorse Bel Edwards should have gotten Chehardy kicked out of the Republican Club for good.

Well, now we are beginning to see what Chehardy reaped for his aligning himself with Bel Edwards.

After his election, Bel Edwards immediately appointed Chehardy to a committee to advise Bel Edwards on the budget.

Now, Chehardy has received another appointment, this time as Chairman of the Louisiana Tax Commission which oversees Assessors across the state. Chehardy will also be responsible for reviewing assessment appeals in 9 parishes including Jefferson.

To the Baton Rouge Advocate, Chehardy disavowed any quid-pro-quo for his endorsement of Bel Edwards.

Chehardy said Monday there “absolutely was not” any arrangement or expectation that he’d land the commission appointment in exchange for endorsing Edwards, who was sworn in to replace Gov. Bobby Jindal on Jan. 11. He said his new role is simply “the next step up” from a job he performed for more than three decades in Jefferson.

Ah, ok. So much for ‘retirement’ and needing to spend time with your family.

What’s that line? Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice shame on me…

Mr. Chehardy, you fooled us big time when your old man handed you the Assessor’s job.

Yep, politics as usual in Louisiana.

But, just be honest for once.

We KNOW you cut a deal. Just admit it. This is Louisiana – it happens every day.

Stop thinking that we are stupid.

Ok, some of us are stupid – but most of us aren’t, despite what you and other politicians seem to think.

But, the kicker to all of this is we, as taxpayers, have no idea what Chehardy will be paid. Is it a full-time job? Will he leave his law firm? If he is paid more than the median average salary for Louisiana residents, he should make it his full-time job.

Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me – fool me three times…

Yeah, I guess we are stupid.

Thanks Lawrence.

You got over on us 30+ years ago and you’re still getting over on us. 

Now that's a legacy to be proud of. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Failed Politician Turned Sell-Out Political Appointee, Thumbing Nose At Kenner Residents

Editor’s Note: I supported and campaigned for Stephen Petit during both of his failed campaigns. 

Louisiana politics truly is a cesspool.

Despite Bobby Jindal’s “Gold Standard” of Ethics, pushed by Republicans who flooded the State House in 2008, politics in Louisiana literally stinks.

And, it’s not just state politics.

Here in Jefferson Parish. you have the same political machines steamrolling over potential candidates who stand in the way of the anointed few who seem to continue to move up the ladder despite dubious qualifications and even more dubious character.

One need look no further than Parish President Mike Yenni and chauffeur turned Sheriff Newell Normand to prove my point.

Back room deals. Job offers. Cash. If the average person knew what went on behind the scenes, they might be shocked.

Of course, this being Louisiana, perhaps they wouldn’t be shocked or even care.

When I ran for office in 2012 and 2014, and when I helped in friend’s campaigns, the offers to drop out or defect from my friends were plentiful.

“We’ll help you run for another office. How about State Rep? City Council?”

“We can appoint you to boards and commissions and raise your profile. Then you can run and we will support you.”

“We can hold a fundraiser so you can recoup the money you spent and have money on hand for your next campaign.”

People that I thought were my friends were acting as go-betweens bringing me different offers. When I said “No”, they’d be back a few days later with a different offer.

It reminded me of the scene in The Godfather II when Tessio is found to have betrayed the Corleone family and is about to be killed.

Tessio (played by the recently deceased Abe Vigoda), looks at Tom Hagan and says, “Tell Michael it was just business.”

Politics IS Business in Louisiana and Business is good (if you have your hand out, which I've never had).

Which brings me to twice-defeated Judge candidate and current Kenner Code Enforcement Director Stephen Petit.

I first met Stephen in 2013 when he was planning to run for Juvenile Court Judge. We were introduced by a mutual friend and spent several hours discussing politics in the French Press Coffeehouse on Williams Blvd.

Petit seemed like a decent guy with a few bumps along the way but he seemed to genuinely care about kids and believed the position was perfect for him.

I agreed to help in any way I could although, to be honest, I wasn’t asked nor did I do much for Stephen’s campaign.

Immediately after meeting with Stephen, and leading up to the election, I received pressure to disassociate with him and support the eventual winner and heavily endorsed candidate, Barron Burmaster.

I declined. Yeah, I’m kinda stubborn that way.

Hours after Petit came in third in the four-horse race, he endorsed Burmaster.

“I'm not a fan of the (political) machine, but I am a fan of Barron Burmaster," said Petit, a Metairie lawyer.

Nothing really unusual here. There were two candidates left and Stephen choose the one with the biggest bandwagon.

In the Spring of 2014, Petit attended my campaign kickoff party when I ran for Kenner Mayor.

Stephen even brought food to the party – food that he cooked – and it was good too.

In the Fall of 2014, Petit ran again for 1st Parish Court Judge.

Again, I supported Stephen and campaigned for him. This time, I did a little more, gathering volunteers to canvass neighborhoods for him. Many of the volunteers had never heard of Stephen, or hadn’t heard anything good about him, but walked door-to-door because I asked them to.

When I picked up literature from Stephen to distribute to volunteers, our conversation turned to the Mayoral campaign. Stephen was actually defending Mike Yenni and Jefferson Parish’s favorite crook, Greg Buisson.

I felt something in my stomach.

Had the Buisson Machine turned Stephen? Why am I going out of my way to help someone who may have sold out?

Another "Machine" candidate? I'm sensing a pattern here. 

This past fall, during Mike Yenni’s campaign for Parish President, Petit was a strong supporter of Yenni on social media, even attempting to joust with me, a choice he quickly reconsidered.

I was surprised when Petit was named Kenner’s Code Enforcement Director. Code also includes building inspections and Petit has no experience with code or inspections. He was primarily a Family Law attorney.

But, the pieces were falling into place.

Stephen Petit had sold out.

Which is fine, as long as you admit it and can live with it.

Kenner, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana and places all over are littered with people who have sold out.

And, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of your family. Of course, it’s not the way I would do it but it’s his life.

But, when you are a political appointee and your paycheck comes from City of Kenner tax dollars, there are strings attached.

In 2012, partially in response to Mike Yenni forcing Kenner political appointees to campaign for Ben Zahn in Lil Ben's campaign for Parish Council ("A Booster Chair for Everyone That Needs One"), the voters of Kenner by a 70-30% margin approved a Charter Change that was designed to eliminate the political activity of appointees.

"The nonelected employees in the employment of the City of Kenner shall not participate in any political activity on behalf of any city candidate in the City of Kenner elections."  

Yenni used that specificity in his claims that his political appointees COULD assist him in his Parish President campaign, since it wasn’t a “city election”.

But, the spirit and intent of the Charter Change was that Kenner voters didn’t want political appointees engaged in ANY political activity, including endorsement groups, party politics, or campaigns.

If City of Kenner employees cannot participate in political activity, their appointed bosses should not either.

Now, along comes political appointee Stephen Petit trying to push the envelope in his campaign for more power (and another Yenni/Buisson mouthpiece) by running for the Republican State Central Committee (SCC) and the Jefferson Parish Republican Executive Committee (RPEC).

One of the primary roles of both organizations is to endorse candidates.

Obviously, Petit isn’t interested in election to these groups so that he can follow the Charter and recuse himself from endorsing candidates running in Kenner elections.

No, Petit is seeking to payback Yenni (and Buisson).

As I said, when I met Stephen, I liked him. But, the Machine got to him and he had no problem selling out.

Now, if Petit has one ounce of integrity, he will remove himself from the ballot for the SCC and the RPEC and discontinue his association in any other political group that endorses candidates. As long as you are receiving a paycheck from Kenner taxpayers, you should act according to the spirit and intent of the Charter instead of thumbing your nose at it (Kenner residents already had 5 years of that with Yenni and now his "Consensus Team" on the Council).

But, I’m not holding my breath. 

You shouldn't either. 

Once you’ve sold your soul to the devil Buisson, it takes a really strong person to break away.

So Stephen, what kind of person are you? The one I met three years ago that cared about kids and doing the right the thing or just another sell-out?