Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Little Ben’s “Grand Vision”

In the old days, when the Times-Picayune was actually published every day, I was never a big fan of the Funny Pages. I would read the Metro section first, then the Front section, scan the Business section (what little there was) and, maybe, skim the Sports section. More often than not, I wouldn’t even open the Living section which is where the Comics would reside.

In fact, even on Sundays when they were printed in color and in their own section, I rarely read the Comics.

But, lately, it seems that I laugh out loud every day that I read the Times-Picayune or when they write about the elected officials in Kenner.

Case in point, an article by new Times-Picayune reporter Ben Myers on another Ben, Jefferson Parish District 4 Councilman Ben Zahn.

Now, before the complaints start rolling in and before Little Ben stomps his feet and gets his beanie in a whirl, I did run for JP Council against Ben and I lost and Ben did sue me because he hadn’t read the Constitution especially the First Amendment and he lost. Twice.

Just to lay it all out there, I’m not writing to criticize Councilman Zahn because I’m going to run against him again or that I’m bitter because I lost an election. I’m not even mad that he sued me twice.

And I’ve tried to not write about Ben on, not because I agree with him but because, in 20 months on the JP Council, he really hasn’t done anything.

Well, I guess Ben’s Political Consultant Greg Buisson must have told Ben that Buisson’s other client, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, was getting a little too much bad press and Ben needed to get some bad press of his own.

So, like the proverbial Groundhog that he is (and should be), Ben Zahn has popped his head out and said, “Let’s see what I can screw up next? Oh, that’s right – Lafreniere Park is in my district.”

There's an old line that says, "It's better to sit down and be quiet and be thought of as an idiot than to speak up and remove all doubt." 

Time for you to sit back down in the highchair Little Ben. 

Last month, Ben took exception with Chris Russo, a longtime member of Lafreniere Park’s volunteer Advisory Board. Evidently Zahn wanted to make some changes to a vendor at the July 4th Uncle Sam Jam and Russo objected. Russo, and the Advisory Board, also clashed with Zahn over the Al Copeland Monument.

I don’t know if Ben got some coupons to Cheesecake Bistro or why he would make the Al Copeland Monument an issue, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what goes on inside Ben’s head because, truthfully, there’s not a lot going on inside Little Ben’s unusually large cranium.

To say that Ben is “intellectually-challenged” does a disservice to those people who are genetically intellectually-challenged. I mean, when you fail the floral design section of the State’s Florist Exam so many times that it’s easier to just keep on being an “undocumented Florist”, I think that tells you all that you need to know about what little goes on inside Ben’s head.

So, when I read the new article about Ben’s “Grand Vision” for Lafreniere Park, I fell out of my chair.

The concept that Ben Zahn could create a “Grand Vision” for anything is ridiculous. “Grand Visions” require the use of multi-syllabic words. Since it is difficult for Ben to speak using such words, it is highly doubtful that he could read or write them either.

But, while Ben’s intellect, or lack thereof, might be temporarily amusing, that isn’t the issue here.  

Lafreniere Park is owned and maintained by East Jefferson taxpayers. Residents have a fee attached to their water bills in a tax dedicated to the park.

The park has two all-volunteer boards that provide input into the direction of the park and improvements.

The Patrons of Lafreniere Park raise funds for park projects. It is not appointed by the Parish Council. It is a non-profit organization.

The Lafreniere Park Advisory Board is appointed by the Council but has no budget.

In a letter, discussing his “Grand Vision”, Zahn sent out an implied warning to both boards: adhere to my vision or else.

"It occurred to me recently that some Lafreniere Advisory Board members and patrons may not yet realize my mission to improve the park," Zahn wrote.

Longtime Advisory Board member Mettery Sherry is also in the dark about Zahn’s “vision”.

“I have no inkling as to what (Zahn's) vision or plans are."

In fact, no one realizes Ben’s mission to improve Lafreniere Park because he hasn’t articulated it and, frankly, it’s not his call or his “mission” anyway.

Hopefully, Ben's "Grand Vision" is unlike his plan for the Kenner Convention & Visitor's Bureau, the money pit that is the Pontchartrain Center, or Ben's "Grand Vision" for Laketown - which sat there unrealized for 6 years while Ben was a Kenner City Councilman.

When the reporter wanted to hear specifics about Ben’s “Grand Vision”, Zahn ducked the reporter saying that he was “too busy for an interview”.

The truth is that Ben needed to buy some time to call Greg Buisson to get Buisson to write a statement for him.

That’s how it is when you’re a Councilman or a Mayor and you can’t think for yourself: in Jefferson Parish, you hire Greg Buisson and hope that Buisson doesn’t tell another reporter that you favor banning citizens from having access to information.

I think it’s going to be awhile before you live that one down Greg. People across the state are still laughing about that one.

In the article, Zahn alludes to “new ideas for funding improvements”.

When your friend is Mike Yenni and your Political Consultant is Greg Buisson, “new ideas for funding” can only mean new taxes, new borrowing or new fees, none of which are good for Jefferson Parish residents.

In the email written by Buisson but sent from Councilman Zahn, he said that he would be spending “discretionary tourism funds” (Buisson is the Master of Tourism Funds) and “funding sources that I have identified beginning in 2014.”

I’m sure that Little Ben is fast at work sharpening his pencil and trying to figure out how much money could be raised for Lafreniere Park if we installed pay toilets. How about a fee to park or drive through the park that we already pay for? Want to play soccer or walk on the track? Make sure that you bring a roll of quarters with you next time you visit the park.

As I said, the crux of this isn’t that Ben has a “Grand Vision”. No, I’m still not buying into that one. The issue here is that Lafreniere Park has a Master Plan and two Advisory Boards to help move the park forward.

The park has gotten along just fine without a politician like Ben Zahn butting his nose in with his alleged “Grand Vision”.

Contrary to what Councilman Zahn believes, his “mission” should be to work with the Advisory Boards, have the Boards apprise him of what support they need from the Parish and the Councilman, and stay out of their way.

Councilman Zahn’s “mission” should not include intimidating people who have spent years working for the betterment of Lafreniere Park without a political agenda – average people trying to give back to their community and do what they can for the largest park in East Jefferson.

Lafreniere Park is a jewel. Before I hurt my leg, I would visit the park several times a week to walk on the track or just sit on the grass, eat lunch and watch the ducks.  

I wonder if Ben’s “new funding sources” includes a fee for duck watching?