Monday, January 7, 2013

Kenner Council Rounds Up Some “Usual Suspects” For Aviation Board Slot

The ink wasn’t dry on the Times-Picayune article announcing that David Campbell, Kenner’s longtime representative on the Armstrong Airport Aviation Board was resigning, and the Kenner City Council had already declared three possible candidates as his replacement. Unfortunately, rather than choosing truly independent candidates, two of the three candidates are familiar faces with potential conflicts of interest.

At Thursday’s meeting, the Council nominated:

-          Jules Corona, a former airline executive who is now retired

-          Jim Hudson, former head of Omni Bank and now Vice-President of IberiaBank (which bought Omni in 2011)

-          Todd Murphy, current President of the Jefferson Chamber and a former executive of Omni Bank who served under Hudson

Readers of will recall that Hudson has a long and, in my opinion, inglorious history of serving on boards and committees in Kenner and Jefferson Parish. Some of Hudson’s notable “achievements” include:
-           Serving on the Fat City Advisory Board, which was responsible for the controversial Fat City rezoning ordinance. It’s been over two years since the rezoning ordinance was approved which caused dozens of businesses to close and hundreds to be unemployed. Fat City may be revitalized one day. Of course, that may not be in our lifetime.

-          Serving on Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s hand-picked Streamlining Government Committee. That committee was formed after the voters of Kenner overwhelmingly defeated Yenni’s plan to double property taxes. One of the committee’s recommendations for “streamlining” Kenner was to close 6 playgrounds. So much for quality of life. Thankfully, after public outcry, Yenni backed away from this “brilliant” idea.

-          Serving on Yenni’s “Economic Development Committee”. This committee is supporting Yenni’s 2030 Vision which calls for Kenner to borrow $30 Million dollars to fund beautification projects. I don’t need a “committee” to tell me that putting some trees in the median of Chateau Blvd. won’t create much “economic development”. Unless, of course, you own a tree service.

Hudson has also served on Greater New Orleans, Inc., the Jefferson Business Council and the East Jefferson General Hospital Board.

Hudson also was instrumental in denying a license to The Blue Monkey Bar. The Blue Monkey was a proposed night club that was in development months before the Fat City rezoning ordinance was approved and wasn’t even located in Fat City but was subjected to “Fat City rules”. In addition, according to court documents, Hudson, and others associated with Omni Bank, contended that The Blue Monkey “would not be consistent with the character of the businesses in the neighborhood and that it could damage property values”. This despite the fact that there were other bars in the area open 24-hours and The Blue Monkey would be open for significantly reduced hours. Here’s a link to a lawsuit that was filed by Blue Monkey LLC against Jefferson Parish and the Jefferson Parish Council regarding the refusal of the parish to approve the Blue Monkey’s zoning:

Aside from the questionable actions and decisions of these boards, there are also other potential conflicts regarding Hudson and the Aviation Board including the disposition of 260 airport buyout properties. In time, the Aviation Board will approve the sale of these properties to individuals and developers for their return to commerce as commercial properties. As a long-time banker and financier, Hudson has numerous potential conflicts with many area developers. Will he recuse himself from voting on matters involving those developers and, if so, how will that serve to protect the interests of the citizens of Kenner?

Murphy also has many of those same potential conflicts.

At this critical juncture with so much riding on the development of these buyout properties and the expected property tax boost to Kenner, can the city afford any potential conflicts of interest?

The Kenner City Council voted 7-0 to send these three nominees to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu for his ultimate approval.
While I generally applaud government acting swiftly, with something this important I wonder, after over 10 years of David Campbell, what was the rush?
Be sure to listen to Walt Bennetti Monday mornings at 7:07am on the Ken and Bernie Show on KPEL 96.5 in Lafayette. Click here to listen live: