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.