Thursday, April 11, 2013

Yenni’s Plan: “Doctored Photos”, “Concepts”

Before a packed Kenner Pavilion last night, half-filled with the Mayor’s cheering section and campaign contributors and the rest with residents, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni fielded questions and comments regarding his plan to increase Kenner’s debt by 32% and borrow $47 Million to pay off old debt and fund a series of beautification projects that were proposed by Yenni’s hand-picked Economic Development Committee.

This was the first Town Hall that the Mayor has hosted despite conducting months of meetings with his Economic Development Committee whose leader, Henry Shane, paid for a study of proposed projects. In addition, Mayor Yenni also hired a Bond Counsel, which will receive $600,000 in fees from the debt package, despite the voters in Kenner approving a Charter Change which mandates that any contracts valued at over $100,000 are reviewed by the City Council and have a public hearing. Mayor Yenni maintains that this rule does not apply yet since the actual debt package has not been approved.
Striping away the comments from members of the Mayor’s Economic Development Committee, who did not disclose their membership when they made their comments, the majority of the comments from the public were negative.

Even the Times-Picayune, which supports Yenni’s plan, wrote that there were “mixed reviews” from attendees.
“Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni's $47 million initiative to refinance municipal debt and beautify 10 streets and intersections met with mixed reviews,” the Times-Picayune wrote.

“Mixed reviews” is putting it kindly.
The Mayor and the speakers glossed over questions, said they would come back and address other questions later (and, conveniently forgot about them), and did their best sales job rather than engaging the people of Kenner in a real dialogue about the merits of these projects.

One of the biggest revelations was the fact that, in Mayor Yenni’s package and on his video presentation for the projects, Mayor Yenni used “doctored photographs” that are not realistic portrayals of what the actual intersections will look like.
In the Mayor’s video presentation, Williams Blvd. is shown to have 8 driving lanes (4 lanes North and South), a median, a turning lane and bike paths along both sides of the street. It is portrayed to have underground power lines and other amenities that the City of Kenner has no funding for.

“I want to be for this project, I really do,” Kenner resident Stacey Allesandro said, “But it is not right to show ‘Photoshoped’ pictures and say ‘This is how it will look’ when it won’t look like that at all.”

Mayor Yenni replied that these are “conceptual drawings”. The City’s Landscape Architect Greg Cantrell added that “Some of these things we might not have money for and we may need to move money from one project to another.”
So, instead of letting the Public decide on the projects that they want and getting their input from the beginning, the Mayor is asking the people to pay a bill for the next 20 years based upon “concepts” and, it is conceivable that, this money can be moved to other projects that the people of Kenner don’t want and aren’t even aware of.

At the last Kenner City Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Maria DeFranchesch said, “The projects that were mentioned (in the Mayor’s plan) are not written in stone.”
Well, why not?

Why can’t the people of Kenner know, before they are handed a bill for the next 20 years, what they are getting and being asked to pay for? You don’t go to a restaurant, order Filet, pay your bill and then get served Hamburger.
It’s an old sales trick: bait and switch. Car dealerships used to advertise that you could buy a car for $99 a month but, when they come to the dealership, you just missed out on that $99 a month car because it was just sold. But, you can buy this $299 a month a car and it’s even better.

The fact is NONE of this $47 Million is dedicated to any project, and it doesn’t need to be dedicated. It just needs to be SPENT. How Mayor Yenni chooses to spend that $47 Million is up to him. Of course, the money must be spent on “Capital Projects” – beautification, buildings, streets, infrastructure and Mayor Yenni will need the approval of the Kenner City Council.
But, considering that only 4 members of the Council need to agree with the Mayor spending anything, and 5 of them already agreeing to “fast-tracking” this debt issue without any real input from the public, it’s a safe bet that Yenni can get 4 votes regardless of what the people of Kenner want.

If Mayor Yenni was unwilling to agree to hold off on a vote and slow this process down until he and the Council had time to consider YOUR input, what makes you think Yenni actually cares about what you want.
Henry Shane said that this plan will help stem the 30-year tide of outmigration from Kenner, citing that Kenner’s population peak occurred in 1982 and has declined with every census.

When asked to support this “theory”, Mr. Shane said, “We’ll get back to that later.”
Of course, he never did. Nor did Mayor Yenni.

Yenni again played a video from the Mayor of Ocean Springs, MS, seeking support for his plan.
In the video, the Ocean Springs Mayor describes how the city used beautification projects after they were devastated by Hurricane Katrina to attract new residents.

And, it worked for Ocean Springs. But, the city was leveled and needed to rebuild. Kenner is an older, established city.
The Ocean Springs Mayor also stated that the city received Grants to pay for these projects. She didn’t ask her residents to take on a massive amount of debt. The same cannot be said for Mayor Yenni.

Shouldn’t that have been the first step: line up as many state and Federal grants as possible and then fill in the gaps with debt? No, that would take too long.

Despite Mayor Yenni’s claim at the last Council meeting that this plan will create new jobs and new businesses, there is no documented evidence that it will do either, or that an established city like Kenner can be remade to attract new residents.
In fact, Mr. Shane doesn’t care if this plan doesn’t create new businesses or jobs.

"We could add another big business, but why would those workers want to live in Kenner?” Shane said. “This is not a job problem."
 So, if it won’t create jobs, it won’t add new businesses or retain existing businesses, there’s no proof that this plan will bring flocks of new residents to Kenner, and the projects are subject to change, why is Mayor Yenni seeking to tie-up sales tax revenue for the next 20 years so he can get money now?

We know the answer to that question: Politics.
Yenni is up for re-election next year. After that, maybe the Jefferson Parish Council. Then, Jefferson Parish President.

You see, that is Yenni’s “Real” Plan and the goal of his campaign contributors on the Economic Development Committee. This beautification plan is just a means to an end.
Sticking Kenner residents with a Hamburger instead of a Filet, and making Kenner pay for that Hamburger for the next 20 years is just a page in the Yenni playbook.

Unfortunately for the people of Kenner, this page costs $47 Million over the next 20 years.