Monday, September 16, 2013

City Of Kenner Would Rather Litigate With Firefighters Than Fairly Compensate Them

History suggests that, when discussing lawsuits, the only people who get rich are Attorneys. Nowhere is this more evident than Attorney Alvin Bordelon and his representation of the City of Kenner in litigation involving the Kenner Fire Department. Bordelon has earned hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars representing the City in lawsuits brought by the Kenner Fire Department involving compensation, pension payments and other issues.

Now, it doesn’t matter whether Bordelon wins or loses – he still gets paid.

Good work, if you can get it, right?

The question is, why does the City continue to litigate and pay huge legal fees to battle the KFD in court? Why not just settle the lawsuits, fairly compensate the KFD firefighters, and work to rebuild morale in the beleaguered department?

One answer could be Bordelon’s political connections.

Bordelon was a contributor to former Kenner politicos Aaron Broussard and Louis Congemi. In recent years, Bordelon has stepped up the political contributions to include no less than 5 current and former Kenner City Council members, including both Councilmen-At-Large, Jeannie Black and Michele Branigan, along with District 2 Councilman Joe Stagni, District 4 Councilwoman Maria Defranchesch and former Kenner District 3 Councilman (and current JP Councilman) Ben Zahn. In addition, Bordelon has contributed to Kenner Police Chief Steve Caraway.

Of course, Bordelon’s largest contributions have been to Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni. Bordelon gave Yenni the maximum $2,500 contribution allowable by law.

In return, despite a less than stellar won/loss percentage, Bordelon is the City of Kenner’s go-to Attorney in litigating firefighter issues.

A few thousand in campaign contributions and you too could rack up the big bucks representing the City of Kenner, despite Mayor Yenni’s claims that enlarging the city’s inhouse Legal Department would result in the elimination of the need for outside attorneys like Bordelon and their huge fees.

Currently, the city is involved in several lawsuits brought by the Kenner Fire Department union seeking adjustments to their pension payout and calculation and a recent suit that was re-filed concerning the KFD Promotional Rate.

The Promotional Rate is the amount of money that a Firefighter receives for each promotion.

In Jefferson Parish, there are 5 steps below Fire Chief:
-          Operator
-          Lieutenant
-          Captain
-          District Chief
-          Assistant Chief

With each promotion, a Jefferson Parish Firefighter receives a 10-15% increase in pay. For example, an entry-level JPFD Firefighter earning $30,000 per year that is promoted to Operator receives a 10% promotional increase ($3,000) in addition to his annual raises. If he is promoted to Lieutenant in 8 years and was earning $45,000, he receives another 10% promotional increase ($4,500), again, in addition to his annual raises. 

This pattern continues through each successive promotion.

The Kenner Fire Department does not have the position of Lieutenant but does have the other four  pay grades. However, the promotional increases are nowhere near Jefferson Parish.

Using the same example as above, an entry-level KFD Firefighter earning $30,000 per year and promoted to Operator receives $241 per month or $2,892 per year as the promotional increase.

Pretty close, right?

But, as you move up through the ranks at KFD you still continue to receive the same $241 per month/$2,892 for each successive promotion regardless of your pay rate. Assistant Chiefs in JPFD might receive an $8,000 promotional increase while an Assistant Chief in Kenner would still receive $2,892.

In our example above, if the Operator was earning $45,000 and promoted to Captain in KFD (since there is no position of Lieutenant), the promotional increase would be $1,608 less than if the same Firefighter was in the JPFD. Multiply that $1,608 over the next 20 years and that Firefighter earns $32,000 less than the same position in JPFD. In addition, since the Firefighter’s pension is based upon his salary, the pension payout is also considerably less.

That $32,000 promotional rate gap doesn’t even include the differences in the annual raises Firefighters receive. Typically, Kenner provides Firefighters with only the state mandated 2% annual increase. If JP gives their Firefighters an average 3-5% annual increase, the pay gap grows.

Factoring in real world salary increases, JPFD Captains earn a base of $10,000 more annually ($18,000 more including overtime), than KFD Captains.

While correcting the promotional pay gap between the JPFD and KFD would cost the City of Kenner money, it would also help stem attrition, improve firefighter morale (already at an all-time low due to the mismanagement of Chief Hellmers), and save the city hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

Of course, Alvin Bordelon’s income might take a hit if the City of Kenner and the Yenni Administration would do the right thing, stop litigating and fighting against the KFD, pay them what they are due and support the KFD.

But then those political contributions from Bordelon to Kenner elected officials might stop. If you’re a Mayor seeking re-election that’s not good for the old campaign account, so expect the litigation to continue and Bordelon to get richer while KFD firefighters keep taking it on the chin.

So, you can pay the hardworking men and women of the KFD or you can pay an Attorney who is also a political contributor. Either way, it’s coming from Kenner taxpayers.

To me, it’s a no brainer. But, I’m not the Mayor.

We already know which option Mayor Yenni chooses.