Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Someone Give Him A Cookie: Mayor Yenni Reduces Auto Allowances For Political Appointees

The most interesting thing about Monday’s City of Kenner budget hearings was Mayor Mike Yenni’s proposal to reduce the overly-generous auto allowances he gives to his political appointees and move that money to pay for a program to recycle.

It was just last year that Yenni was challenged by the City Council to put up an ordinance to end years of illegal auto and cell phone payments.
After the omnipotent City Attorney claimed they were “reimbursements” and didn’t need Council approval,  the Yenni Administration reversed course, called them undocumented allowances and then talked the City Council into calling them what they really were, extra compensation.

Several Council members publicly gushed about how hard the Directors in Kenner worked and how they were always on call, in a vain attempt to justify to the public the $400 per month auto allowances and $150 per month cell phone payments.
If you are reading this and you have a $150 a month cell phone plan, please call me. I have some slightly used toll booths from the Crescent City Connection to sell you.

Now, after fighting vigorously and defending the needs of his political appointees, Mayor Yenni has now deemed the high auto allowances are really not as necessary as he claimed just one year ago.
How will the highly paid City of Kenner Directors make it financially without receiving all of their little monthly bonuses? Will they need to file for Bankruptcy as at least one City Department Head has or will they need to moonlight like our previously mentioned omnipotent City Attorney?

Now, before the good folks at 1801 Williams Blvd. jump up and down and claim that I’m bashing Mayor Yenni let me state for the record that I’m a fan of recycling. Always have been. I applaud Mayor Yenni for expanding the recycling program.
But, what I’m not a fan of is the way Mayor Yenni does things.

First, the auto and cell phone allowances (now deemed compensation) should never have been given. Forgive me if I believe that, if you earn $60,000  - 100,000 per year or more, you should be able to afford $5 a month in gas to drive to and from work. Kenner is 11 square miles. We’re not talking about commuting to Baton Rouge daily.
Second, since they are compensation, and these same Political Appointees also received a 3% raise last year, these allowances just compounded that raise.

Third, again, since they are compensation, why weren’t they added to the recipient’s salary on the budget? Could it be that Mayor Yenni doesn’t really want you to know that the Finance Director earns over $101,000 per year PLUS an additional $4,800 as an auto allowance AND $1,800 as a cell phone allowance? While it doesn’t look good that the Finance Director for a city the size of Kenner earns $101,000+, it looks a whole lot worse if it showed that the Finance Director earned $107,949 plus benefits.
And what about our omnipotent, moon-lighting City Attorney? He earns $88,326 according to the budget. Of course, adding in the $4,800 auto allowance and $1,800 cell phone allowance bumps that up to $94,926 a year. Sounds like a full-time job to me. He must have boundless energy to take on personal injury cases and rustle up business for his other employer, Mayor Yenni’s friend and political contributor.

Is it any wonder that they can’t afford a tank of gas to drive from their house to their offices on Williams Blvd. on the paltry wages that the City of Kenner pays?
There’s also the question of whether it is even legal for Mayor Yenni to reduce the auto allowances. I’m sure though that Yenni wouldn’t make a move without consulting the omnipotent City Attorney. However, since the allowances were spelled out by a council ordinance, it would seem logical that they could only be reduced by a council ordinance, right?

But, let’s get back to recycling.
In December of 2011, Mayor Yenni unilaterally extended the city’s contract with Ramelli for garbage pickup for another five years. The Mayor didn’t put the contract out for bid, didn’t seek input from the council or the public, he just did it.

Not only did he extend the contract without council input, he didn’t even bother to tell the council until he was asked about it 6 months later when the contract was due to expire.
Had Mayor Yenni been a little proactive and put some thought into the contract renewal and the negotiations, perhaps he could have had Ramelli include recycling in their bid. After all, the more recycling that is done, the less Ramelli will need to pick up from people’s homes, right? That should reduce Ramelli’s costs and allow them to provide the recycling service for free or a significantly reduced cost.

According to Councilman Joe Stagni, the City of Slidell receives garbage pickup and recycling for a lower rate than the City of Kenner. Slidell’s lower rate and better service might be because they put their contract out for bid and sought competition.  
In an article on Nola.com, Mayor Yenni said, “It’s an additional service, and we’re not going to the taxpayers and asking them to pay for it.”

So, I guess that means that, since Ramelli will be picking up a lot less garbage due to recycling, our trash bills in Kenner will be reduced accordingly.
I’m sure that’s wishful thinking on my part. Of course, I’m still waiting for my new Ramelli trash can that was promised to all Kenner residents when Ramelli signed the original contract 6 years ago.

Until that day comes, my trusty old Waste Management trash bin, in use since before I heard the words "Hurricane Katrina",  will have to do.
Of course, when your friend is the Mayor, it doesn't matter what contracts say or what you promised to get that contract. As long as you're a FOM (Friend of Mike), you're set in YenniVille.
And, only in YenniVille can you claim that something is so vital to employee retention and morale one day and then reduce it later without a council ordinance because you want to use the money for something else.
But I guess when you’re the Mayor of YenniVille, you can make stuff up as you go along and hope that nobody notices. Or that the Council doesn’t put it up for a voter referendum.

Can’t have the Mayor of YenniVille continue coming out on the losing end of voter referendums, now can we?

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