Wednesday, December 19, 2012

JEDCO Director Retiring On A Scandalous Note

Earlier this year, Lucien Gunter, the Executive Director of JEDCO (Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission), announced that he was retiring at the end of this year. Since Mr. Gunter is 85 years old, I didn’t really think his announcement was a surprise.

Now, little by little, we’re learning the rest of the story.
First, there was the revelation that Mr. Gunter used his JEDCO email account to promote political candidates specifically those that JEDCO was supporting for the Jefferson Parish School Board.

Now, the story goes even deeper.
A Times-Picayune article ( revealed that a JP Internal Auditor is claiming that since 2007 when he was hired, Mr. Gunter has violated the residency rule requiring him to reside in Jefferson Parish. The audit also uncovered the fact that Mr. Gunter used a deeply discounted apartment as a cover for his St. Tammany Parish residency. Mr. Gunter paid $300 per month for an apartment that would normally rent for $1,100 – 1,200 per month. This deep discount was courtesy of real estate magnate Henry Shane and his First Lake Properties.

In addition, Mr. Gunter is alleged to have been reimbursed over $11,000 for meals at local restaurants. While this is not against JEDCO policy, since JEDCO conveniently doesn’t have a policy, it is against Jefferson Parish policies.
 Gunter also received a $750 monthly car allowance and received almost $2,000 in reimbursements for mileage and parking.

While I have met Mr. Gunter several times during his tenure at JEDCO, it wasn’t until January of 2011 that I had a really significant conversation with him.
In the previous incarnation of, I wrote an editorial criticizing JEDCO for a controversial billboard advertising campaign. You remember the billboards all over Jefferson Parish asking ridiculous questions like “Who’s Reinventing A City?”, “Who Lowered Crime Rates?, and, my personal favorite, “Who Built Better Levess?”.

On the morning that the editorial was published, I received a phone call from a JEDCO representative. The JEDCO rep had a message for me: “Mr. Gunter would like to meet with you today. Can you make it here at 2?” Sure, I said, I’d love to. What’s the worst that could happen? I get chewed out for 15 minutes? For the opportunity to get some questions answered, I’d put up with it.

Well, 15 minutes turned into over 2 hours as Mr. Gunter extolled the virtues of JEDCO, their importance to Jefferson Parish, the help that JEDCO could give me as a business owner, and how my thinking about JEDCO was wrong and I just didn’t understand.
That’s how it always works when I criticize the actions of someone who thinks they are powerful or the organization that they represent: I don’t understand.

When I criticized Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni regarding his plan to double property taxes in Kenner, the Mayor called me into his office (again, for over 2 hours) to tell me that I didn’t understand how government worked. When I’ve criticized Jefferson or Orleans Parish Councilmembers, or other elected officials, it was the same story: I didn’t understand.
I really can't count the number of times that I've been told by some elected or appointed official that I don't understand.

In fact, that’s a pretty popular deflection tactic employed by many: don’t talk about the issues and blame the other person because they clearly don’t understand.
So, after 2 hours of listening respectfully to Mr. Gunter tell me that I don’t understand, he threw me another familiar line. Noting my strong support of Jefferson Parish and Jefferson Parish businesses, Mr. Gunter talked about the similarities between he and I and JEDCO and

“After all, we’re both on the same team,” Mr. Gunter said.
“No, we’re not,” I replied. And that was how our conversation abruptly ended.

It was true then and it’s true now: Mr. Gunter and I aren’t on the same team. Never have been. Never will be.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pace Of Isaac Recovery In JP Slow, Frustrating

There’s an old saying that there are only two absolutes in life: Death and Taxes. I would like to add two more: while Mother Nature may have a sense of humor, she certainly has no sense of irony, and there is no recovery after a storm without electricity.

Despite the advance notice and early warnings that began with 24/7 television coverage on Sunday, when Isaac was just a baby Tropical Storm, and despite the repeated musings of Entergy’s President that there are “12,000 electrical workers here from 24 different states” ready to pick up the pieces as soon as the winds die down, Entergy proved once again that it was either woefully unprepared or is poorly managed.

As of 9:45am Sunday morning, 5 ½ days after Isaac touched down on the Louisiana Coast, over 100,000 locations in Jefferson Parish are still without electricity. The results for Entergy New Orleans, Entergy Louisiana’s sister company that serves Orleans Parish, were even worse: over 107,000 were without power in Orleans.

Driving around East Jefferson on Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the number of businesses that were still without electrical service. Basic human needs like food and gasoline were not available because grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants were sitting idly by waiting for electricity.

While much less devastating than the levee-implosion of Katrina, there was a similar sense of helplessness after Isaac. Stop signs replaced street lights. The few grocery stores that were open did not have the basic staples like bread, eggs and milk. The Salvation Army and Red Cross were serving hot meals to those in need. There were lines on the East and WestBanks of Jefferson Parish with thousands lined up for ice, water and MREs (a term that I hoped I would never hear again). Garbage overflowed from the curbs of Jefferson Parish homeowners as they were required to once again clean out their refrigerators and freezers and dispose of rotted food.

Unlike Katrina, Isaac was a Category 1. While it lingered over Louisiana and took it’s good sweet time before moving on (much like folks shopping at Wal-Mart), it was still just a Category 1, a veritable mosquito bite compared to the destruction caused by the Army Corps and Katrina.

After Katrina, there were trees down on almost every street. Electric polls were either ripped from the ground or at angles looking like little Leaning Towers of Pisa. The stench from the rotten food, disgusting refrigerators and freezers, mold and death were everywhere. Businesses were closed for weeks and months while owners and workers cleaned up and they, along with residents, waited for Entergy.

And, after Isaac, we’re still waiting for Entergy.

Over 100,000 still without power. Electrical trucks sitting idly in parking lots. Frustrated residents and business owners. And now, we can add one more category to the list: frustrated politicians that have stopped apologizing for Entergy.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, politicians in Jefferson and Orleans couldn’t stop tripping over themselves telling every media outlet that Entergy would be out there in full force as soon as the winds got below 35 mph.

Parish President John Young and Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, and others, repeatedly brought up the multiple briefings they had with Entergy officials, parroted the “12,000 electrical workers from 24 states” line, and patted Entergy on the back so much that they themselves may have actually believed the words they were saying (a common problem among politicians).

Well, now the tide is turning.

Probably getting tired of hearing the constant complaints from his constituents, President Young is now on the offensive lashing out at Entergy.

"It is not usually our style to confront and criticize a company like Entergy," Young said. "But unfortunately it is necessary for us to do this at this time."

"We have gotten a lot of talk," from the power company, he said. "We have gotten little action."

If you don’t have your Political-speak Decoder Ring on, John Young is getting mad.

"We would be ready to get back to business today, but for Entergy," he said. "There's a lack of a sense of urgency."

It’s nice to see that our elected officials are finally criticizing the Sacred Cow that is Entergy rather than apologizing for Entergy’s lack of planning, poor response or management.

Young, in fact, has called on the Public Service Commission to investigate and fine Entergy. He has also said that Entergy’s shareholders should fire the company’s CEO.

He has also taken the additional steps of trying to lobby other elected officials to support his cause. I’ve confirmed that Young called Kenner Mayor Yenni to discuss garnering Yenni’s support (which will no doubt occur although a little late in the game).

Political grandstanding? Maybe. But, while it may be the first time that an elected official has chastised Entergy, it’s certainly not the first time a politician has climbed up on a soapbox and after finally hearing his constituents and seeing the way the political winds are blowing. It may have taken a little prodding from his political consultant, a poll, or the whining of his family members who may also be without power (or call me a cynic but it could have been the complaints from his political contributors whose businesses were still in the dark and not generating money to supply those large political contributions), but, for whatever reason, John Young (and even a late to the game Mike Yenni) are standing up for the frustrated masses in Jefferson Parish.  

Will Young’s protests do any good? Time will tell. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait 7 years after Isaac for another poor performance from Entergy. More importantly, the 100,000 in JP without power shouldn’t have to wait another 7 hours without electricity.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kenner's #3 Man Out

After an apparent disagreement with Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, the City of Kenner's Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Works, Pratt Reddy, has resigned. Sources say that Mayor Yenni requested, and received, Reddy's resignation.

The dispute apparently revolved around a city contractor that was friendly with Mayor Yenni. The Mayor's Office would not respond to requests for comment.

Reddy, who was Public Works Director under former Mayor Ed Muniz, continued in that role until Jose Gonzalez was hired. Gonzalez, who was Interim Jefferson Parish President for about a week after Aaron Broussard resigned, retired from Jefferson Parish government and, almost immediately, accepted the position of Kenner's Director of Public Works and Reddy was promoted to Deputy CAO.

Reddy's resignation was surprising considering Mayor Yenni is promoting a $25-30 Million bond refinancing/extension to support a series of projects under the guise of "Economic Development". The projects include rebuilding the Duncan Canal Bridge, expanding Napoleon Avenue to the Airport Access Road, and beautifying Chateau Blvd.

Mayor Yenni immediately promoted Internal Auditor Natalie Newton to the position of Deputy Chief Administrative Officer. In her capacity, Ms. Newton, who previously worked as an Insurance Administrator prior to joining the City of Kenner as Internal Auditor, will be responsible for overseeing all city departments except Finance and Public Works which will be the responsibility of former Deputy CAO and current CAO Mike Quigley.

Newton joined the City of Kenner in November 2010. Her hiring as Internal Auditor drew significant criticism as she was not a Certified Auditor.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Yenni Trying To Craft New Legacy

Not content with being known as “The Mayor who tried to double property taxes” (and really, who would be), Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni has a new mission: create a new legacy by borrowing and over spending on dubious projects under the guise of “Economic Development”.

Since Kenner voters saw through the smoke-and-mirrors and overwhelmingly defeated Yenni’s plan to double property taxes rather than cut the size of government and operate more efficiently, Yenni has offered up a pie-in-the-sky wish list of projects with an initial cost of over $25 Million to be financed by borrowing and using sales tax revenue as collateral and mortgaging Kenner’s future for the next 15 years so he can rebuild his political base.

I guess when “Tax and Spend” didn’t work, it’s on to “Borrow and Spend” for Mayor Yenni.

While governments worldwide are trying to deleverage and stop borrowing to avoid bankruptcy, rather than letting current bonds expire and using the cash and interest savings on sorely needed capital infrastructure projects like fixing our crumbling streets and drainage system or addressing the needs of the Kenner Fire and Police Departments (“Public safety is my Number One priority,” Yenni said before last year’s disastrous tax vote), Yenni has fashioned a plethora of projects, some highly dubious and speculative, others simply foolish, lumped these disparate projects together and called them “Economic Development.”

Yenni presented his wish list to his hand-picked Economic Development Committee.

The projects include:

- An $11 Million extension of Napoleon Avenue to the Airport Access Road. There are currently no studies showing a pent-up demand by Kenner residents for this road and Napoleon Avenue certainly isn’t one of Kenner’s commercial corridors.

- A $4 - 6 Million rehab of the vacant Kenner High School building ot move some city offices including the City Attorney, the City Council and the Council Chambers (which were just remodeled last year at a cost of over $150,000).

- Over $2 Million to beautify and repave Chateau Boulevard which, except for the intersection of West Esplanade and a golf course owned by his Father-In-Law and managed by Mayor Yenni’s wife, is residential.

Again, the question begs to be asked: What do any of these projects have to do with “Economic Development”?

Similar to the Mayor’s hand-picked Streamlining Budget Committee, whose final report was written by Mayor Yenni’s political consultant with little to no input from some committee members, rather than letting the Economic Development Committee determine or advise on the future course of Kenner’s growth, Mayor Yenni presented a plan that will hamstring Kenner’s future growth and fiscal flexibility for the next 15 - 20 years.

The fact of the matter is, Yenni, who has never started a business, created a private sectory job or even held a private sector job, has no concept of the what the term “Economic Development” means.

If you ask most people what “Economic Development” means, they’ll tell you that to them it means new jobs, new businesses or expanded businesses.

In a nutshell, “Economic Development” means prosperity.

I’m not an Economist but even I know that if I rearrange the furniture in my house, I’m not spurring “Economic Development”. I’m not creating jobs or prosperity.

Yenni’s plan to move city offices, build an unneeded road, and repave a residential street, won’t spur “Economic Development” in Kenner either.

Hopefully, the Kenner City Council will just say “NO” to Yenni’s pie-in-the-sky “Economic Development” plan and not allow him to mortgage Kenner’s future to pay for his legacy.

Last year, Kenner told Mayor Yenni that it couldn’t afford a “Tax and Spend Mayor”. This year, Kenner can’t afford a “Borrow and Spend Mayor” either.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Open" and "Transparent" Aren't In Mike Yenni's Vocabulary - Part 2

In Part 1 (below), we discussed Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s problems with the budget; the fact that the City has had a budget surplus for the past three years while Yenni has repeatedly claimed the need for more taxes; the Fake Consolidation and Personnel Changes (AKA “The Yenni Shuffle”); ethical questions surrounding Recreation Director Ken Marroccoli; and the Ramelli garbage contract extension.

Today we examine problems at the Kenner Fire Department; the Certification faux pas; Fire Chief Hellmers padding his wallet; Kenner political appointees bleeding Kenner; and Yenni coercing employees to politic.

Problems At The Kenner Fire Department

Even before last year’s failed property tax vote, the Kenner Fire Department has languished at the bottom of the financial food chain in Kenner. While this situation has lasted through several Mayors, the situation has been exacerbated under the Yenni Administration and the leadership, or lack thereof, of Kenner Fire Chief John Hellmers.

Hellmers, who is essentially a pawn of Mayor Yenni, has proven to ben an ineffective leader and a poor manager.

During the period leading up to the property tax vote, Mayor Yenni and Police Chief Caraway were front and center at every civic association that would have them promoting the tax plan. Like the popular kids game, “Where’s Waldo?”, Kenner residents were left to wonder: “Where’s Chief Hellmers?”

Hellmers, who is not the most articulate public speaker, abdicated the KFD’s portion of the presentation during Yenni’s barnstorming civic association tour to underlings.

When your equipment is antiquated, your personnel underpaid and undermanned, and your Department’s morale is in the dumper, it’s past time for a leader to show leadership. Unfortunately for Kenner residents and the hardworking members of the KFD, Hellmers is more interested in biding his time and not rocking the boat while he waits to collect another pension rather than fight for his Department and his men.

When the City Council moved $1 Million from the Pontchartrain Center insurance settlement to purchase 2 new fire trucks and other fire equipment, rather than choose less expensive, but more than adequate, trucks, Hellmers overspent and purchased significantly more expensive trucks from a politically-connected sales representative.

The $150,000 that Hellmers overspent could have been better utilized to plug other holes at KFD or purchase more equipment.

Instead, the KFD got 2 top-of-the-line trucks with features that will be lightly used. In addition, the trucks were shipped without sirens and had to sit in a parking lot for over a month prior to their being put into service.

If all of that wasn’t enough, the fire trucks needed additional modifications after delivery to outfit the trucks with old equipment from another truck.

Perhaps the $150,000 Hellmers would have saved could have been better spent on something relevant like new hoses, instead of giving his friend a large sales commission.

Certification? Who Needs Certification?

This Spring it was disclosed that a training course given to KFD firefighters in the Summer of 2011, was not state-certified. This left the KFD without first-responder certification and could have left the City of Kenner vulnerable to millions of dollars in lawsuits.

In fact, it was only after months passed and KFD firefighters began asking questions about the cards they were to receive for having the certification, did the issue come to light.

The Director of Emergency Medical Services at East Jefferson General Hospital, Michael Guillot, accepted responsibility for the error.

While noble, clearly the issue should never have gotten past a competent manager. A competent manager would have double-checked with the state to ensure that the trainer and the course was state certified. As we’ve already noted, Fire Chief John Hellmers is not a competent manager.

Ultimately, KFD firefighters were recertified and thankfully, the City was not involved in any lawsuits. But it was another black eye for Kenner and the KFD and could have been a non-issue if Hellmers was doing his job.

Chief Hellmers At The Trough

As if his salary of over $100,000 was not enough, Chief Hellmers further poured salt in the wound by accepting Supplemental Educational Compensation that he wasn’t entitled to.

KFD employees are eligible for up to 3 $600 annual payments for various educational certifications. The point of the Supplemental Educational Compensation is to reward KFD employees for continuing education and gaining better qualifications. It is not designed to add even more money to Chief Hellmers’ bloated salary. For several years, Hellmers has approved and accepted payments based upon outdated certifications.

When this was brought to the attention of the Yenni Administration did Mayor Yenni terminate Chief Hellmers for his theft of public funds? Suspend him without pay? Require him to reimburse the City? No, No, and No.

Despite an audit of credentials for the entire KFD staff, and despite knowing about Hellmers’ outdated credentials, Mayor Yenner, as is usually the case when you’re a FOM (Friend Of Mike), has taken no action regarding Chief Hellmers.

The morale problems continue at KFD and will not begin to be resolved until Hellmers is deposed.

Bleeding Kenner/$400 a Month To Drive To Work

For years, Kenner has illegally paid a select few employees an auto allowance. While Mayor Yenni has continued to pat himself on the back for reducing the number of take-home vehicles (which were only reduced after numerous citizen complaints), he repeatedly fails to mention that he has significantly grown the number of employees receiving a car allowance. Yenni also fails to mention that he himself has access to four city vehicles.

At first billed as part of the employee’s work contract by CAO Mike Quigley, that rationale quickly changed when City Attorney Keith Conley opined that the car allowance was a “reimbursable expense”.
Conley failed in his logic by not mentioning that “reimbursable expenses” must be documented and cannot, by state law, be a flat fee. Flat fee reimbursement is considered as income to the recipient. Since the Kenner City Council must approve changes to income for politically appointed Directors and Assistant Directors, the car allowances are also illegal at the local level.

As an added irony, many Kenner employees receiving a car allowance rarely leave their office eand when they do travel out-of-the-parish, they use a pool vehicle. The employees get paid for the use of their own vehicles while using city vehicles and city gas for their trips.

Essentially, Kenner taxpayers are over reimbursing city employees for their daily commute to and from work. Per the IRS, commuting expenses are not reimbursable.

So, faced with several Louisiana Attorney General opinions stating that the car allowances are illegal, what does Mayor Yenni do to protect the extra income of his political appointees? He puts up an ordinance attempting to legalize the car allowances and adds cell phone and data plan expenses as well.

Setting aside for the moment that many of these employees don’t leave their offices and aren’t on cal 24/7 to justify a cell phone, is it right for the city to reimburse an employee $150 per month for what could only be a $30 bill? And, if a cell phone is necessary for the employee’s job, why doesn’t the employee get a city cell phone? Having a city cell phone would also mean that the call records and text message records would become part of the public domain and subject to the public records law.

According to Yenni’s proposal, his top Directors, most of whom never leave their offices, are to receive $550 per month in additional compensation to cover their nonexistent auto expenses and overpay for their cell phones.

Rather than doing a means test or paying straight mileage, Yenni has determined that Finance Director Duke McConnell (Annual salary: Over $100,000), CAO Quigley (Over $83,000), City Attorney Conley (Over $85,000) and others, drive almost 800 miles per month on City of Kenner business. Since Kenner is only 11 square miles, this is highly unlikely.

Other Kenner Directors, Assistant Directors and other employees also receive varying amounts of additional compensation for their auto allowances, cell phone and data plans, regardless of what their actual mileage is or what their cell phone and data plans actually cost. 

But, logic and protecting the taxpayers of Kenner, are not what is paramount in Yenni World.

Coercing Employees

Many Kenner residents, as well as some Kenner Directors, were outraged that Mayor Yenni expected his political appointees to support and campaign for candidates that Yenni favored.

In last Fall’s Jefferson Parish Council race, which included this writer, Yenni “recommended” that his appointees go door-to-door to support his favored candidate, unlicensed florist and eventual winner Ben Zahn. Even Police Chief Steve Caraway went door-to-door soliciting votes and sign locations for Zahn.

Kenner Councilwoman Michele Branigan, herself a candidate before withdrawing, was vocally upset that the Mayor would pit City Directors FOR one Councilman and AGAINST another.

City Directors were also upset.

“It’s like we’re not allowed to think for ourselves or support the candidate that we think would do the best job,” one Kenner Director confidentially said.

This Spring, Yenni also had his appointees rally behind Mary-Sharon Howland in her 2nd failed bid to join the Kenner City Council.

In an attempt to rectify this, the Kenner City Council proposed a Charter Change banning political activity for all Kenner employees. The Charter Change will be voted on in November. Mayor Yenni is said to be soliciting contributions from City contractors to fight this proposed Charter Change.


As I said in the beginning of Part 1, the question remains: is this the kind of government that you want in Kenner. Obviously, Mayor Yenni thinks so.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Howland To KPD Rumors Become Reality

ClickJefferson has confirmed that former City of Kenner Community Services Director, former Assistant Purchasing Director, almost former 2-time Assistant Clerk of Court, and loser in the recent District 3 Kenner City Council race Mary-Sharon Howland will be given a to-be-determined position in the Kenner Police Department.

Ms. Howland was rumored to be returning to Kenner City Government as the Assistant Clerk of Court after her failed Council bid, which was heavily supported by Mayor Mike Yenni, Police Chief Steve Caraway and JP Councilman Ben Zahn.

Now ClickJefferson has learned that Howland will be moving to the KPD and a KPD employee will move to the Assistant Clerk of Court slot. It is unknown what Howland's position will be or her qualifications for the new position. The swap is designed to not impact the KPD personnel budget.

The KPD position that Howland will be taking has not been advertised.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

“Open” and “Transparent” Aren’t In Mike Yenni’s Vocabulary – Part 1

The shenanigans continue in the Administration of Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni.
After last year’s resounding defeat of Yenni’s plan to double property tax, Mayor Yenni told every media outlet that he could find, “We’re going to give the people of Kenner the kind of government that they want.”

In deference to the Kenner Star, which waxes with Homer-esque prose every time Mayor Yenni passes gas, let’s recap some of the government that Yenni thinks we want.

The City Budget
After proclaiming Kenner a “dying city” and professing his need for more of your tax dollars, Mayor Yenni has failed to yell from the top of the rooftop at Kenner City Hall that Kenner has run a budget surplus for the past 3 years. That’s right, a SURPLUS.

However, the Mayor has failed to answer the obvious questions: If Kenner is “dying”, why haven’t you made massive personnel cuts and how is it possible for Kenner to have a surplus for the past 3 years? Instead, Mayor Yenni has continued to grow an already top-heavy Kenner City Government.

Rather than moving the Purchasing Department to the control of the Finance Department, as stated in the City Charter, Yenni filled the position of Purchasing Director. Leaving the Purchasing Director’s slot unfilled, would have saved Kenner money and reduced a Director slot. Yenni promoted the Assistant Purchasing Director and moved the former Director of Community Services into the Assistant’s slot (see more below).

Yenni also created the positions of Emergency Management Director (despite the fact that, in times of emergency, Jefferson Parish is the governing authority) and IT/Telecommunications Director.

In the past year, the Kenner City Council moved $2 Million from the Pontchartrain Center insurance settlement to purchase 2 new fire trucks, fire equipment and police vehicles. They are also adding new seating in the building.

As part of their attempt to reduce Kenner’s budget, Mayor Yenni’s “blue-ribbon” Budget Streamlining Committee, which was in reality nothing more than a rubber stamp to provide Yenni political cover, proposed closing 6 playgrounds. Yenni, trying to act as the “good cop”, came back with a counter: we only need to close 3 playgrounds. Of course, he failed to mention that 2 of the 3 playgrounds scheduled for closure were in District 2 and he was trying to enact some political retribution on Kenner City Councilman Joe Stagni, a frequent opponent or that the other playground was at Lincoln Manor, an area that is in desperate need of recreational opportunities for our youth.

In the end, no playgrounds were closed.

The Faux Consolidation/Shuffling The Deck Chair On The Titanic
 As part of his grand budget scheme, Yenni consolidated the department of Community Services, folding its duties into the Recreation and Community Development Departments. Of course, Mayor Yenni threw the Kenner Charter, which included only the Community Services Department, out the window.

You would think that, by eliminating a department, Kenner would have at least one less Director and Assistant Director, right? But not in Yenni World. The Mayor simply moved the Community Services Director to become the Assistant Director of Purchasing (after word leaked that Yenni was moving her to the newly created position of Assistant Director of the Clerk of Courts, a position that he later gave to his “consolidated” Public Information Director) and moved the Assistant Community Services Director to become one of the mayor’s assistants.

Now, after the former Community Services Director, Mary-Sharon Howland, lost her bid to become the new District 3 City Councilman (despite a push from Mayor Yenni, Chief Caraway, and all of the city’s Directors and Assistant Directors), like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Howland may resurface in Kenner City Government as, wait for it, the Assistant Director of the Clerk of Courts.

It matters not in Yenni World, that the Assistant Director positions in Purchasing and the Clerk of Courts were not advertised so members of the general public could apply. It matters not that Ms. Howland, who did an adequate job as Community Services Director, has no practical Purchasing or Court experience. It matters not that, once again, Kenner is not getting the “Best and Brightest”.

No, the only thing that matters at Kenner City Hall is: Are you an FOM (Friend of Mike).

If you are an FOM, campaign for his chosen candidates and do the Mayor’s bidding, Mayor Yenni will find a spot for you somewhere and provide you with on-the-job training.

Sound preposterous? Consider Kenner’s first IT Director, Valerie Waguespack. Last year, Ms. Waguespack made the yeoman’s leap from Mayoral Secretary to Interim Purchasing Director to the newly created position of IT Director overseeing all technology in the City and KTV 76, the city’s cable access channel.

By all accounts, Ms. Waguespack may be a competent manager, however sources inside Kenner City Hall tell me that her IT skills leave much to be desired.

When I asked Mayor Yenni what qualities Ms. Waguespack had to make the significant move in pay grade from Secretary to Interim Purchasing Director, the Mayor replied, “Well, she’s getting her Masters (Degree).”
Even Kenner’s new Internal Auditor, rather than being truly independent, is an Executive Assistant to the Mayor. Translation – there is ZERO oversight from the Internal Auditor regarding anything that might upset the Mayor or cause him to be viewed unfavorably.

Again, “open and transparent”? Only in Yenni World.

 Scandals In Recreation
Despite his involvement in several questionable activities, Mayor Yenni has refused to disclipline, suspend or fire Kenner’s Recreation Director Ken Marroccoli. In fact, thumbing his nose at those who questioned Marroccoli’s  integrity, Yenni gave him a significant salary increase.

Beginning with Marroccoli’s involvement in passing through invoices to the Kenner Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, to his involvement as President of the Kenner Sports Foundation (a group that was set up to compete with the KCVB to attempt to secure sporting events for Kenner), Marroccoli has continued to push the ethics envelope and, when questioned, simply feigned ignorance.

It is beyond most people’s comprehension how Marroccoli could not have known that, acting as President of a non-profit group that was attempting to raise money by selling the naming rights to Muss Bertolino (which the city doesn’t own and has no right to selling any naming rights), while employed by the city as its Recreation Director, is wrong. But, for the ethically challenged Marroccoli, his antics, which would have caused him to be fired had he been employed in the private sector, earned him a large pay raise in Yenni World.

The Ramelli Extension
After Waste Management’s withdrawl from the market post-Katrina, the City of Kenner was in need of a garbage company and put the contract out for bid.

The bid process was supposed to entail one bid with no further changes or additions. Ramelli Janitorial Services, a local company with strong political ties but no experience in trash pickup, was the winning bidder.
Unlike Jefferson Parish which, when it searched for a trash company, included a clause stating that any bidder needed a minimum of 5 years of experience in trash pickup, then-Kenner Mayor Ed Muniz (and his CAO Mike Yenni) included no such experience clause.

In its bid, Ramelli promised to replace every trash receptacle with a new one within the first 6 months of the 5-year contract. According to sources, 5-years later, this has occurred at less than 40% of Kenner’s residences.

Also in the bid, a schedule of fees for complaints and non-compliance were included. Possible fines included penalties for trucks driving in neighborhoods before 6am, failure to pick-up dead animals on Kenner’s streets, failure to have a telephone line available for residents to report complaints, failure to maintain a log book of complaints and more.
With all of these potential penalties, it would seem reasonable that once during the past 5-years, just once, Ramelli would have incurred some sort of penalty. It hasn’t. Not one penalty in 5-years for any reason.

Despite documented complaints from residents, Ramelli has never been fined by the City of Kenner.
Also, as we mentioned above, the bid process stated that there would be no further changes or additions. However, not long into its contract, Ramelli requested, and received, additional compensation from the City as a “fuel adjustment”. This payment is clearly illegal according to an Attorney General’s opinion and is in violation of the initial bid.

So, despite the fact that Ramelli has been in non-compliance with the original contract and receives an illegal payment as a “fuel adjustment”, what does Mayor Yenni do? Does he solicit other bids to attempt to get a better deal for Kenner residents? Does he give Ramelli a set time limit to comply with the terms of the original contract? Does he have his staff contact other area municipalities and see what other companies are charging as a baseline that he could use to compare Ramelli’s fee structure?
No, Mayor Yenni unilaterally renews Ramelli’s contract with the illegal “fuel adjustment” for an additional 5-years.

In an interview with the Times-Picayune, Yenni explained that, if he didn’t renew Ramelli’s contract, it may have cost Kenner residents more. Really? I guess the Mayor has never heard about competition.
For many people, the largest purchases in their lives are their homes and their cars. In both cases, chances are that you didn’t pay the initial price that was quoted. You negotiated with the Realtor or the Auto Salesman. You compared other houses and shopped at other car dealers. You gathered as much information as you could before you made such a major purchase.

Not in Yenni World. Comparison shopping and negotiation? We don’t need to do that. We’re getting a great deal, there are no complaints about Ramelli’s service (although residents cannot view the complaint log book), let’s just give them another 5-years. No other company could possibly give us a better price or service than Ramelli.

The question remains, if this was such a great deal for the residents of Kenner, why didn’t Mayor Yenni announce this great deal when he extended the contract in December 2011? Why wait until it was reported in the Times-Picayune in May of 2012? I guess that is yet another mystery of Yenni World.

Coming in Part 2: $500 A Month To Drive To Work; Problems At The Kenner Fire Department; Coercing Employees; and more.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kenner Fire Chief In Hot Water Over Supplemental Educational Pay

Kenner Fire Chief John Hellmers, who has made a series of controversial decisions including purchasing expensive fire trucks from a politically connected vendor, is in hot water over a decision that he made which effects himself.
ClickJefferson has learned that an internal audit of the Kenner Fire Department’s Supplemental Educational Compensation will show that for several years Chief Hellmers has claimed educational compensation that he was not entitled to receive.

The Kenner Fire Departments has three levels of Supplemental Educational Compensation that each pay $600 annually to those who qualify.  Chief Hellmers has filed, and received, 2 of the 3 levels of compensation for several years although he only qualified for 1 supplemental payment.
Acting upon information received from multiple sources, ClickJefferson filed a Public Records Request to view Chief Hellmers’ payroll stubs for recent years. We then followed up with the Kenner Civil Service Department and the Kenner Fire Department to get a specific explanation as to the different levels of compensation and what qualifications were required to receive each level of compensation. The Kenner Civil Service Department was unaware of the supplemental compensation and the Kenner Fire Department failed to respond to multiple requests.

ClickJefferson then attempted to contact Chief Hellmers directly via telephone and email to ask the Chief to explain the Supplemental Compensation requirements and to show proof that he was entitled to receive the extra compensation that he claimed. Chief Hellmers did not respond to our requests.

According to sources close to the Kenner Fire Department, Chief Hellmers has been given an ultimatum: prove you meet the requirements for the additional compensation before Friday, 5/25/2012, or the Yenni Administration will take further personnel action.
ClickJefferson has also learned that a personnel complaint was filed against Chief Hellmers by a KFD applicant who was denied the opportunity to join the KFD. The applicant was told by Chief Hellmers that the applicant had failed a pre-employment medical test. The applicant discussed the test results with the Doctor who administered the test and was told that the applicant had passed the test and that Chief Hellmers was mistaken.

ClickJefferson will keep you posted on the continuing drama surrounding Kenner Fire Chief John Hellmers.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Citizens For A Better Kenner Statement On Kenner Budget

The following statement was read at the Kenner City Council meeting on Thursday, 5/17/2012


Citizens For A Better Kenner has reviewed the 2012/13 proposed budget submitted by Mayor Yenni. While time constraints do not allow us the opportunity to fully discuss our issues with the budget, there are several items that Citizens For A Better Kenner has significant issues with.

Employee perks including car allowances and professional development fees for politically-appointed Directors and Assistant Directors are included in the 2012/13 budget. Last year, Louisiana State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued an opinion that the car allowances being paid to some Kenner employees are illegal.

In April, several tv stations reported on the continuation of the illegal car allowances. In one report, the Mayor stated that he would take action on the car allowances upon his return from military reserve training. The fact that Mayor Yenni did not take action last year, and still has not taken action to abolish the illegal car allowances is an affront to every Kenner taxpayer.

Citizens For A Better Kenner respectfully asks that the Council take immediate action to eliminate all unnecessary car allowances and any professional development fees that are not directly related to an employee’s continued responsibilities with the City of Kenner. This will save Kenner taxpayers over $100,000 annually.

While agreeing with the Council and the Mayor that salary increases for City of Kenner employees are long overdue, CFABK believes that the increases should be limited to the rank-and-file employees and not include Kenner’s highly paid, politically appointed Directors and Assistant Directors.

The 3% proposed salary increase will amount to thousands of dollars for each politically-appointed Director, the average City of Kenner employee’s salary will only increase by less than $15 per week. While Directors receive thousands in additional salary, car allowances and other benefits, the average Kenner employee won’t be able to afford a tank of gas with their salary increase.

CFABK respectfully asks that the Council use the funds budgeted for employee raises exclusively for non-political employees.

CFABK is also disappointed that the City of Kenner is continuing to participate in a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with JEDCO which costs Kenner taxpayers $75,000.

Since JEDCO is primarily funded by Jefferson Parish, and, as such, should represent all of Jefferson Parish, we question why Kenner needs to make an additional payment for representation that it already pays for.

CFABK is also concerned with the annual subsidizes provided to the Pontchartrain Center and Center Manager, SMG.

CFABK appreciates that the annual subsidy is projected to be reduced to $443,900, however we fail to understand why Mayor Yenni has not been more proactive in negotiating a better deal for the city with SMG or securing another company to manage the Center. Clearly the City has more pressing needs than to spend $400-500,000 or more annually to subsidize SMG’s management.

While SMG may be filling more days at the Pontchartrain Center, Metairie Dog Shows are not the type of events that bring overnight and weekend visitors to Kenner and fulfill the mission of the Pontchartrain Center.

While unrelated to the budget, CFABK overwhelmingly supports a Charter change to eliminate all political activity for all City of Kenner employees including the Police Chief. City employees should be judged upon their performance for the residents and business owners of Kenner and not on their political views. In addition, the Kenner Police Chief should be apolitical and focus on enforcing laws not influencing those that may be elected.

Jindal, JP Delegation Approve Capella’s Money Grab

Jefferson Parish Assessor Tom Capella’s proposal to increase his budget by 58% at the expense of Jefferson Parish Schools and other government agencies, was signed into law by Governor Jindal. The entire Jefferson Parish legislative delegation except for Representative Pat Connick, who voted “NO”, and Representatives Cameron Henry and Tom Willmott, who were “Absent”, voted to approve Capella’s money grab.

The bill will increase Capella’s budget from $2.73 Million to $4.32 Million with about $500,000 of the increase coming from the Jefferson Parish Public School System.

Capella maintains that he needs a larger budget to add staff to handle the 2012 property reassessment. Every four years, each property in Jefferson Parish is reassessed. Capella has not said why the budget increase should continue in the 3 years after the property reassessment or why the bill says that the increase will be used for for "clerical and other expenses."
State Senator John Alario sponsored Senate Bill 140 and State Representative Robert Billiot handled the bill on the House side.

The increase in the Assessor’s budget will continue until the Legislature changes it.
Capella was elected in 2011 after longtime Assessor Lawrence Chehardy announced his retirement.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Coconut VooDoo?


Earlier today, I read a Facebook post from a friend of mine. She “Shared” a message from Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni regarding how Kenner was “moving forward” since the city had attracted the Coconut Beach volleyball group and the New Orleans VooDoo’s indoor practice facility to Kenner.
I had to read this information because, Mayor Yenni and I aren’t friends – Facebook or otherwise.

While it may seem to some (including Hizzoner) that I always disagree with Mayor Yenni (see:, I need to give him a modicum of credit here: Coconut Beach was extremely successful in New Orleans and can hopefully continue their success in Laketown.
If Coconut Beach can migrate their existing player base to Kenner and, in the process, offer another recreational outlet for Kenner residents and jumpstart Laketown, it will truly be a coup for Kenner. The indirect economic impact to Kenner from players purchasing gas, meals, snacks and more, while not quantified, could be considerable.

Migrating their player base is a big “IF” however and the jury is still out on whether there is support for the venture among Kenner residents.

The other issue that I have with Coconut Beach is the relatively meager direct economic impact that they’ll have on Kenner.
It’s been reported that Kenner will receive $20 per volleyball team competing at Coconut Beach. This equates to roughly $40,000 - $50,000 annually. For the city to receive such a tiny amount for the prime real estate that is Laketown is a concern.

Hopefully, Mayor Yenni and his crack administrative team have produced data on the economic impact of Coconut Beach that they just haven’t shared with the lowly people that they represent (the residents of Kenner).

So, for the moment, we’ll give Mayor Yenni the benefit of the doubt and hope that Coconut Beach will be more than some boxes of sand at Laketown and actually benefit the city both economically and our quality of life.

The practice facility for the VooDoo is an entirely different story.

While I enjoy indoor football, I can’t conceive of actually going to a VooDoo practice. Maybe people really do that (maybe really bored people).

While it may be nice to say that Kenner is the “Home of VooDoo’s Indoor Practice Facility”, try as I might I can’t find any tangible benefit to the city.
Will people travel to Laketown from New Orleans, the West Bank, Biloxi or even from the Treasure Chest to watch the VooDoo practice? I think not. Is there any economic benefit to the city? Other than VooDoo players and staff gassing up their vehicles, I don’t think so.

So, what do we get with the VooDoo practice facility? Not a whole lot. But, according to Mayor Yenni, Kenner is “moving forward”.
Moving forward?

Well, maybe baby steps.

Walt Bennetti

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

We're Back - Well, Kinda


A lot can happen in 3 months. Did you miss us?

After 42 days in three different hospitals, 5 days in Intensive Care, and 2 weeks at home doing the outpatient treatment thing 3 times a week, I think that I'm ready to spend some time writing and commentating. While I still don't have the time to support a full-fledged at the moment, I still can use this platform to discuss issues, thoughts and ideas. will be back at some point in the near future, but, for now, I need to spend the bulk of my time getting healthy. Maintaining the site, selling advertising, writing, managing, and everything else are all too time consuming now. So, for the moment, writing only will have to do.

First, I need to thank the great men and women that work at Ochsner in Kenner and on Jefferson Highway, at Chabert Hospital in Houma, and those that work at the LSU Clinic on Poydras. The Doctors, Nurses, Nurse's Assistants, Housekeepers, Dietitians and staff were all incredibly patient with me. Their hard work and service made my hospital stay bearable. I'm sure if you asked them they would say that they were "just doing their job". But, trust me, these are some dedicated people, many of whom go unnoticed (unless you are a patient).

When I was admitted to the hospital, I thought that I would be in and out in about a week. Little did I know that I would have 9 surgeries and, hopefully, another one in the near future. I thought that I knew my body. Boy, was I mistaken.

42 days is a long time to lay in a hospital bed. You have, literally, nothing but time on your hands because you don't go to the hospital to rest or relax. It's not a vacation. For me, living on "Hospital Time" meant getting your blood pressure checked every 3 hours; getting your IV replaced at 4am; having an equipment alarm beeping at 2:48am. But you deal with it because you know that when you arrived at the hospital, you were so out of it that you don't even remember your first two days there. When your girlfriend tells you (days later) that a Doctor told her that you could be dead, you're happy to wake up at 4am. You're thankful to eat cold grits for breakfast.

You're thankful to be alive.

The good thing about being in the hospital, if there was a "good thing", is that you have that time on your hands. Time to read. Time to watch TV (who knew that I would get hooked on "Storage Wars"?). But, for me, the most important thing was time to think and reflect. Time to assess and reassess.

Last August, I turned 50. I used to joke that I would never see 50 years old (I won't be joking about that again).

Like most people, I've done somethings that I am proud of and somethings that I am not proud of. I have always tried to not dwell on negative things. The things that I've done that I am not proud of, I did and they can't be changed. I can only look at the here and now, and look to the future.

During my reflections in the hospital, I started to really look deep into myself. What do I really want to do with the rest of my life? What really makes me happy?

More about that later.

For now, I need to keep getting stronger so I can get on with the rest of my life; so I can bring back; so I can continue being a watchdog in Jefferson Parish and Kenner (sorry Mike but, I'm not going anywhere); so I can continue living.

So, for the moment, this shell of will have to do. Stay tuned though, we've got some great stuff coming.

Before I close the first edition of the "new", I want to thank my friends who have helped me get through this. Your calls, emails, texts, cards, visits, etc., have all helped immensely. I appreciate your thoughts and support more than I can say.

While "Thank You" isn't nearly enough, I need to thank Mignon. I doubt that I would have been able to get through this thus far without her being by my side. It surely hasn't been easy for her and, I'm sure, that there were many places she would have rather been than in a hospital room with me. She has sacrificed a lot and it's not over yet. But, together, I think we'll make it and, hopefully, this will have made us stronger.

More about that later too.

I still have a long road ahead of me and I'm not giving up. Like I said, stay tuned. There's a lot more to come.

Walt Bennetti