Monday, January 21, 2013

Freedom of Speech? Not In Kenna Brah.

At the end of every Kenner City Council meeting, there is an opportunity for citizens to address the council for 3 minutes each. Citizens regularly address the council to discuss their complaints, compliment our elected officials, or promote various community events.

Many times, I sign up to address the council.
To be honest, more often than not, I use my time to criticize a policy or a proposed ordinance. I root my arguments in facts and do not make personal attacks against the City Council or the Mayor.

No, I am critical of Mayor Yenni because of his actions, his proposals and his thoughts (or lack thereof).
The same cannot be said for Mayor Yenni and members of his administration.

Here’s the back story:
At the December 20th council meeting, I discussed Kenner City Events, Inc., their promotion of the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts, and their claims to donate the proceeds of this event to the Kenner Food Bank. According to Kenner City Events tax records, it appeared that they were not donating anything to the Food Bank and were instead using the proceeds to increase their bank account. I also questioned the considerable expenses incurred by the Prayer Breakfast. Over 80% of the money raised from ticket sales (at $30 a plate) and sponsorships went towards expenses.

When I asked Mayor Yenni how much money was donated from the Prayer Breakfasts to the Kenner Food Bank, the Mayor sat there silently.
At the council meeting on January 3rd, which I did not attend, Kenner CAO Mike Quigley made several inaccurate comments regarding my December 20th comments and personally attacked me. Mr. Quigley stated that the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast was a “spiritual event” and never intended to make money and that money earned from one Prayer Breakfast was simply rolled over to support the next Prayer Breakfast. This contradicts Mayor Yenni’s own statements that the Prayer Breakfast was designed to support the Food Bank.

At the most recent council meeting, I spent my 3 minutes addressing Kenner CAO Mike Quigley’s personal attack against me at the last council meeting, and correcting Mr. Quigley’s inaccurate comments (the text is below).
After I spoke, Mayor Yenni and Mr. Quigley, again felt the need to go on the attack. Mayor Yenni said that he was tired of me coming before the council and making “fraudulent accusations”.

Mayor Yenni then went on to say that since the Prayer Breakfasts have not raised the kind of money that was expected and that “has contributed to us having to use that money for the next event.”
So, now the proceeds from the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts didn’t go to the Kenner Food Bank because there wasn’t enough to give but there was enough to put in the bank and use for the next event? Wasn't that what I said? What am I missing here?

Since I used Kenner City Events tax records and Mayor Yenni’s own words to show that Kenner City Events did not donate the proceeds from the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast to the Kenner Food Bank and Mayor Yenni just acknowledged that, how could the Mayor deduce that I was making “fraudulent accusations”?
After Mayor Yenni finished his spiel, Mr. Quigley started again.

Mr. Quigley stated that the reason for the high expenses at the Prayer Breakfast was because “Everybody eats a tremendous breakfast. That’s the point of the whole thing.”
Really? Here I thought people came to support the Food Bank.

And $30 a plate is a lot of money for breakfast, especially when the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts are held at a venue that Mayor Yenni’s wife manages and is owned by his father-in-law. You would think that they would give the Mayor a discount, not charge him triple.
I can eat a “tremendous breakfast” like Mr. Quigley, for about $8 at Golden Corral and still have $22 left to write a check to Kenner Food Bank. At Golden Corral, I can eat all I want and, it’s not just breakfast. If you go there in the late morning, they start serving lunch too – for the same $8! But, I digress.  

But, that wasn’t all.
After more speakers discussed other issues, Kenner City Attorney Keith Conley took to the microphone.

Mr. Conley said, “During the week, someone gave me information about Mr. Bennetti and he has 3 open violations” at the Ethics Board and that I owed “thousands” of dollars.
On this, Mr. Conley is partially correct. I did file three campaign finance reports late. One was filed on paper when it should have been filed online and two of them had no activity from the prior period and I was unaware that I was required to file.

That’s right. Mr. Conley felt the need to tell the world that I filed some campaign reports late. Of course, he didn’t say that. He said, “violations” and the late fees total $840 (a far cry from “thousands”).
Of course, I could have done worse things.

No, my ‘crime’, that Mr. Conley felt compelled to publicize, was filing a form late.
Now, I take full responsibility for my actions in filing the reports late. The Ethics Board did assess me some late fees and we are discussing a resolution of those fees.

But why would the City Attorney receive and then disclose confidential information about a private citizen at a televised, public meeting? Was this supposed to intimidate or embarrass me?
I thought that the role of the City Attorney was to defend the city in legal matters. Is the role of the City Attorney in Yenni Administration to intimidate and embarrass private citizens?

Between his allegedly full-time position as City Attorney, his part-time position as a Personal Injury Attorney, and his possible lawsuit against the city to overturn the vote of Kenner residents who overwhelmingly supported a ban on political activity by unclassified City of Kenner employees, doesn’t Attorney Conley have enough on his plate without worrying about me?
Shouldn’t citizens have the right to discuss issues publicly without being harassed and attacked by elected officials and unelected employees who are paid by the citizens that they are attacking?

Next week, is Attorney Conley going to call a Press Conference to alert the media that, due to Hurricane Isaac, I renewed my driver’s license late?
This is not the first time that opponents of the Yenni Administration have been publicly criticized at a council meeting. Many private citizens have been personally attacked simply because they voice their opposition to Mayor Yenni.

It is troubling that citizens are attacked when they disagree with Mayor Yenni and his administration and the continued unprofessional attitude of City Attorney Conley should not be allowed to continue.
Here are my comments to the Kenner City Council on Thursday, January 17th 2013 along with links to the Tax Forms of Kenner City Events Inc. You can decide if my claims are “fraudulent” or not. Mayor Yenni said they were but then he confirmed them. Certainly not the first time that he's flip-flopped on an issue and I'm sure it won't be the last.  

At the Dec 20th Council meeting, I discussed Kenner City Events and their sponsorship of the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast to benefit the Kenner Food Bank.

I discussed the fact that, according to their tax records, in 2010 Kenner City Events raised $14,000 from the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, had $11,130 in expenses and finished the year increasing their bank account by $4,000.

In 2011, Kenner City Events raised $12,525 from the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, incurred $10,435 in expenses and ended the year increasing their bank account by $839.

The tax records show that for both years, expenses averaged 80% or more, which is surprising.

 From their tax records, it would appear that Kenner City Events is not using the proceeds from the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast to benefit the Kenner Food Bank.
At the January 3rd Council meeting, which I was unable to attend since I was in Florida visiting my mom for Christmas, Mr. Quigley took to the microphone to answer a question from Mr. Morella, regarding my comments.

Mr. Quigley went on to discuss the event “Sipping With Santa” and how much that event raised. I never discussed “Sipping With Santa”. Mr. Quigley further stated that the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast was a spiritual event and never designed to raise money. In fact, Mr. Quigley stated that the money raised from the proceeds of the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast were simply rolled over, “seed money” I think he called it, for the next year’s prayer breakfast.

Mr. Quigley’s assertion contradicts the tax records of Kenner City Events. There are also other contradictions.
According to an article published by on October 22nd, 2010, “More than 400 people attended the breakfast and proceeds will go to the Kenner Food Bank, according to Valerie Waguespack, an executive assistant in Yenni’s office.”

In an article dated November 12, 2012, written by Mr. Broach in the Times-Picayune and discussing the plaque listing elected officials that Kenner City Events was contributing money to, Mr. Broach writes, “Kenner records say the rest of the money is coming from Kenner City Events Inc., a charity run by Dan Kelly, a close associate of former Mayor Ed Muniz. Kenner City Events finished 2011 with $17,299 in the bank, after sponsoring one event to benefit Laketown Park and a prayer breakfast to benefit the Kenner Food Bank, according to its tax records.”

In the November 2012 issue of the Kenner Star, in Mayor Yenni’s own column, Mayor Yenni writes:

"The traditional Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, which benefits the Kenner Food Bank, is sponsored by Kenner City Events…”

Mayor Yenni goes on to write:

“The common theme among the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, Sipping with Santa and the city of Kenner’s 2012 Food Drive, is the effort to support the Kenner Food Bank,…”

Since I made the same statement that Ms. Waguespack, Mr. Broach and the Mayor himself made, would Mr. Quigley like to tell them that they’re wrong or would he like to apologize?”

Kenner City Events Inc. 2010 Tax Form:

Kenner City Events Inc. 2011 Tax Form: