Thursday, May 2, 2013

Despite Rushed AG Opinion, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s Administration Is “The Gang That Couldn’t Bid Straight”

Two years ago, when Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni proposed doubling Kenner’s property taxes instead of cutting City Government, I advocated for the consolidation of several City Departments. One of them was the Purchasing Department.

Per the City Charter, that was approved by the voters of Kenner in November 2007 (certainly not Ancient History), the functions of Purchasing fall under the Finance Department.
In fact, on Page 33 of the Charter it lists the duties of the Finance Director including “procure all real and personal property, materials, supplies, and services required by the City.”

When I met to discuss this with Mayor Yenni and Finance Director Duke McConnell (who earns in excess of $100,000 plus benefits as the Finance Director), Yenni and McConnell swatted me away like a fly on a hot, summer day.
“Purchasing is too specialized,” Mr. McConnell said. “I don’t have the time to supervise that.”

But, what about the Charter?
“The Charter says that the Mayor has the right to add Departments at will,” Mayor Yenni said.

So, really, what’s the point of having a City Charter if a Mayor can do whatever he wants despite what the Charter says, and what the people voted on?
Since then, Mayor Yenni has repeatedly stated how the size of the City Payroll is smaller and there are less City employees. And, while that is true, it’s been painfully obvious over the past three years that Yenni has fired workers and replaced them with more highly paid Directors and Assistant Directors and added Departments.

This is certainly not the only time Mayor Yenni has stretched the truth. But, we’ve got time to get into that can of worms later. For now, let’s talk about Purchasing.
In February and March, I wrote extensively (as did the Times-Picayune and The Advocate for those who say I’m the only one criticizing Mayor Yenni) about the flawed generator maintenance contract that was given to a Mississippi company over a Kenner company because the Kenner company was outbid by $87.00 on a $100,000 contract.


If you want to read more, click here, here, here or here. That’s right: 4 articles on a generator maintenance contract.
Forget the response time difference. Forget “Shopping Kenner First”. Forget that the winning bidder did not have the proper licenses to even bid on the contract.
None of those reasons were enough for Mayor Yenni or his Purchasing Director to toss the bid as unresponsive or give the Kenner company preference.

This despite the fact that Mayor Yenni had already negotiated a generator maintenance contract with this same Mississippi company that was to stay in effect until a new contract was signed.
Of course, Mayor Yenni didn’t tell anyone that. He wanted the people of Kenner to believe that Kenner needed a generator maintenance contract in place because hurricane season was upon us.

 Is “omission” considered “stretching the truth”?
The generator contract was a “Sealed Bid” so there’s no possible way that the winning bidder could have known what the 2nd lowest bidder (the Kenner company) bid, right?

At every Kenner City Council meeting there is an agenda item #10 that calls for “Opening Of Bids” and it is predictable that the Council Clerk will say, “We have none”.

So, why isn’t this the time to open Sealed Bids and publicly disclose them?
Wouldn’t that be “Open and Transparent”?

Not in Kenner.
Louisiana Revised Statute 38:2214A regarding the Opening of Bids says “Sealed bids must be publicly opened and read aloud.” It also says that “bids are public records and are subject to inspection and copying”.

I guess in Kenner “publicly opened and read aloud” means the Purchasing Director sitting at her desk with her office door open.
In fact, unlike many municipalities, in Kenner the “Sealed Bids” are opened without a member of the Governing Authority (the Council) present. Kenner, conveniently, doesn’t have an ordinance that requires the Council (that approves the bids) to be present when the bids are opened.

In addition, some vendors have complained (although none will go on record for fear of never getting another government contract) that their bids were not accepted despite attempting to turn the bids in prior to the deadline.
One vendor described how he arrived at Kenner’s Purchasing Department 15 minutes before the bid deadline but the Purchasing Director was not in the office. The vendor was told that they could not submit their bid without the Purchasing Director present. It seems that the Purchasing Department staff in Kenner cannot be trusted with the task of taking an envelope and putting a date/time stamp on it. The Purchasing Director arrived back in the office 5 minutes after the deadline passed and told the vendor that their bid was past the deadline.

As I said, this incident was relayed to me by a vendor so there is no way that I can independently verify it. But, if true, it is indicative of a very real issue.
Now, Kenner has yet another issue with a bid.

After being deferred twice, at the last Kenner City Council meeting, the Council approved a bid for PVC pipe. While the City has never spent more than $8,000 in one year on PVC pipe, even after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the two-year contract had a cap of $100,000.
After it was approved, it was disclosed that the winning bidder had put in a clause that would allow them to increase the price by 3.5% in the 2nd year. Rather than ask the winning bidder to delete that clause, since, if you’ve ever read the bid specs that the City of Kenner sends out there are many ambiguous statements.

Ambiguous statements. Vendors complaining about the bid process. “Sealed Bids” not publicly opened or supervised by the Governing Authority. The Attorney General’s Office and State Contractor’s Board getting involved in local minor contract issues.
Sure sounds “Open and Transparent” to me.

With the deferrals and the vote, that’s a full 6 weeks that the Yenni Administration could have stopped this; could have tossed the bids; could have done something.
Now, 3.5% of $8,000 is $280.

Still Mayor Yenni held steadfast.
“There is no contract too small to circumvent the public bid law,” Yenni told the Times-Picayune.

Yenni, who vetoed the Council’s ordinance approving the contract, went to the State Attorney General’s Office to get an opinion on his veto.
If you remember, it took the State Attorney General over 8 months to return an opinion on Kenner’s Executive Pay Plan which Mayor Yenni and his mentor Mayor Muniz expanded to include everyone from Secretaries to Assistant Directors.

8 months the people of Kenner waited and squandered more tax dollars to learn what we already suspected: the Executive Pay Plan was illegal.

The AG told Mayor Yenni what he had been told for years by many, the Executive Pay Plan was illegal. Yet, Mayor Yenni took no action to recover the over $1 Million that was squandered by the Plan’s expansion by Mayor Muniz and himself.

I guess because it wasn’t a “public bid”, $1 Million tax payer dollars wasted wasn’t enough for Mayor Yenni to try to collect from his friends.
In a lightening quick opinion, the Assistant Attorney General said Mayor Yenni was correct in vetoing the ordinance.

I’m sure Mayor Yenni is glad that it didn’t take them 8 months like the Executive Pay Plan.
The veto was only the second time that Yenni had used his veto power in 3 years. The last time was when the Kenner City Council first attempted to ban Yenni’s political appointees from engaging in politics. That measure was ultimately decided by the voters who approved the ban by a 70-30% vote.

At Thursday night’s Kenner City Council meeting, there were two motions to Reconsider the ordinance and override Mayor Yenni’s veto. The Council also met in Executive Session, away from public earshot, to discuss the ordinance and the veto.
In an attempt to allow Mayor Yenni to save face, the Council voted to not override the Mayor’s veto but cancel the bids and the contract award and start from scratch.

Can’t make the Mayor of YenniVille look bad.
If the City of Kenner’s Purchasing Department has this much trouble with a Generator Maintenance Contract valued at less than $50,000 and a PVC pipe contract valued at $6,000 - 8,000 per year, Heaven help us when they start letting the contracts for Mayor Yenni’s $28 Million Bond Deal.

I can’t wait for that.
Just another day in YenniVille.