Saturday, September 21, 2013

Kenner Has Its Own Version Of The NSA

People across the country have been in an uproar over the past several months with the reports of the Federal Government using the NSA to spy on American’s emails and telephone calls. Imagine, the Federal Government spying on its citizens.

In the City of Kenner, Mayor Mike Yenni has his own version of the NSA: the City’s Legal Department, led by former JPSO Deputy and current City Attorney Keith Conley.

A few months back, after I filed the lawsuit to attempt to stop Mayor Yenni from selling the $42 Million in bonds to finance Yenni’s “vision”, I needed to pick up some papers at my attorney’s office. She joked and asked if I had parked in the back of the building. Since I didn’t understand the joke, she explained that she was told by a city employee that people within the City of Kenner Government knew when I went to her office.

Since her office is just down the street from City Hall, I thought that it could just be a coincidence – some city employee drove past and saw my car there and made a comment.

Later, I received an interesting phone call from a city employee. To avoid detection, the employee called me from her home.

She asked me how I enjoyed my lunch a couple of days before at a Kenner restaurant. I told her that it was good but I didn’t see her there otherwise I would have said “Hello”. She told me that she wasn’t there. Then she asked me how my dinner after the Kenner Council meeting was. I told her that I stopped at Sonic on my way home. She replied, “I know”, and then told me every other stop that I made during that day. She knew what convenience stores I went to, when I went to the Post Office, and when I went to the Doctor’s office for physical therapy for my leg. She basically recanted the last several days of my life.

It seemed that someone was keeping track of my whereabouts.

Now, 25 years ago, this sort of tracking would have probably led to some explaining by me but, since now I live a pretty nondescript life as I've grown older, there’s isn’t much that people could learn by tailing me.

To be honest, I found it amusing that anyone, let alone someone within the City of Kenner, would care how I spent my time. However, when reports started appearing on the Kenner Forum and they contained personal information about my comings and goings, I started to take things a little more seriously.

Now, I don’t know why someone would bother with noting the times that I would frequent the Circle K/On The Run convenience stores on Loyola and on Williams, or why someone would care that I picked up dinner from Kenner Seafood on a Friday night (I don’t eat meat on Fridays and Kenner Seafood makes really good Fried Catfish), but someone wanted to know.

Since I’ve spent most of this year walking with a cane, a walker or crutches and a cast or splint on my leg, and since I’ve driven the same car for years and don’t have access to Mayor Yenni’s fleet of vehicles, it’s not like I can hide from anyone even if I wanted to. Strangers stop me everywhere and ask what happened to my leg and, if restaurant servers and convenience store clerks don't already know my name, they certainly would recognize and be able to pick me out of a police lineup.

It’s anyone’s guess why, or even if, someone within the City of Kenner was keeping track of me. It could have been an eerie set of coincidences. Of course, since I’m still holding out hope that there really is an Easter Bunny, the coincidence part could be wishful thinking on my part.

Perhaps I should file a Public Records Request to see if surveillance on me was approved by the Mayor. I’m sure that someone would point at my frequenting convenience stores to prove that I have a “drinking problem”. Since I often converse with Kenner Police officers at the Circle K stores, I’m sure that they will attest that my “drinking problem” involves copious amounts of Diet Mt. Dew from the fountain machine. $.79 for 52 ounces of soda is the best bargain in town!

Let’s Just Cover Things Up

Given what I just described, obviously, I was not surprised when I learned Thursday that the City of Kenner had hired a private investigator to follow and report on a city employee, nor was it surprising that the order came from City Attorney Conley.

As I mentioned, Conley was a JPSO Deputy prior to becoming an attorney. He was also involved in the cover-up of an incident involving a woman who was pushed to the ground by a reserve JPSO Deputy at a Metairie Mardi Gras parade. The woman sustained injuries so severe that she required back fusion surgery and she was awarded $332,500 by a jury.

For his actions in the cover-up of the incident, the woman was awarded judgments against the JPSO and against Conley personally, as well as the others involved in the cover-up.

In a Times-Picayune article about the incident, the woman’s attorney said, “You have three officers who for 11 months covered up this thing, intentionally lied.”

Three years after the incident when the case was finally settled, the JPSO had still not officially disciplined Conley or the other officers.

Subsequently, Conley left the JPSO.

That incident should tell you all you need to know about Kenner City Attorney Keith Conley’s character.

It also speaks volumes about Mayor Yenni’s personnel decisions.

A Pattern Of Threats, Retribution and Intimidation

Mayor Yenni, himself, has a long pattern of afflicting retribution on those who oppose him.

Almost every person who had a significant role in the battle to defeat Mayor Yenni’s plan to double property taxes has faced some sort of vengeance from the Mayor, myself included.

When I ran for Jefferson Parish Council in the Fall of 2011, against then-Kenner City Councilman Ben Zahn (who was supported by Mayor Yenni) on several occasions I had manila envelopes containing documents left on my car at public meetings (including the Alliance for Good Government endorsement meeting) or taped to my front door. Notes were included with the documents or written on the envelopes to the effect of “If you don’t drop out, we’ll give this to the media and bury you” or “Get out or we’ll ruin you.”

One envelope contained old business information from over 20 years ago, another contained information showing that I attended high school in Pennsylvania (I still don't know what that was supposed to prove - I've never denied being born or spending the first 18 years of my life in Erie, Pennsylvania), and other assorted newspaper articles, public documents and other items with the expressed intent to intimidate me and get me to withdraw from the race clearing the path for Zahn's coronation. 

Since, not even the flesh-eating virus could "bury me", obviously, those scare tactics didn’t work.

Even the Kenner City Councilmembers who assisted the anti-tax movement have faced Mayor Yenni’s wrath and intimidation tactics.

Recently, 1st District Councilman Gregory Carroll, who supported the anti-tax movement and also voted against Mayor Yenni’s debt plan, was essentially called a “criminal” and had his ethics questioned by Mayor Yenni and City Attorney Conley over Councilman Carroll’s use of a city vehicle. It’s ironic that it would be the two of them questioning anyone’s ethics and character.

Back To The Present

In a letter dated Wednesday, September 18th and sent to City employee Joey Metzler, Code Enforcement Director Tamithia Shaw notified Metzler of a surveillance investigation involving him, what the investigators learned and advised Metzler of a disciplinary hearing the next day, Thursday, September 19th.

Ironically, Ms. Shaw’s last day as Code Enforcement Director was the very next day, Friday, September 20th.

In the letter, Ms. Shaw describes a several alleged violations of city policy. While I’m not condoning the actions of Mr. Metzler or judging his responses to the allegations, some of the violations are certainly a stretch.

The letter details a handful of instances over the course of the 5-day surveillance where Mr. Metzler is alleged by investigators of not exiting his vehicle to conduct inspections, of reading the newspaper inside his vehicle, of driving “in a careless manner” and of smoking a cigarette inside a city vehicle.

Among the violations of city policy Ms. Shaw cites are the following:

6.1 Personal Conduct – “Employees shall conduct themselves at all times, both on and off the job, in a manner which will not cause adverse public criticism of the City Administration.”

6.2 Moral Conduct – “Employees shall maintain a level of high moral conduct that is in keeping with the highest standards of the community, and in accordance with the State and Federal laws.

6.6 Truthfulness – “Employees shall be truthful in his conduct towards all people.”


Those three points alone should be enough to get the Mayor, his City Attorney Henchman, and others kicked out of the state. 

What about the lies that Mayor Yenni told on his campaign web site? How was that "truthful" and of "high moral conduct"? Or Yenni's public questioning of another elected officials character and integrity? That didn't cause embarrassment to the City? 

What about the Recreation Director who tried to sell "naming rights" to a playground, through yet another of Kenner's made-up non-profit organizations (The Kenner Sports Foundation), that revolve around Mayor Yenni and his friends? What amount of "adverse public criticism" did his actions cause the City, yet no disciplinary action was ever taken against him and he was never put under surveillance? The Times-Picayune Editorial Board even wrote about it.

Where do I sign up to testify at THOSE disciplinary hearings?

So, Why Was Mr. Metzler Investigated?

Last month, there were allegations regarding improper cash-handling at the Code Enforcement Department. The Kenner Police Department was investigating.

There were also allegations that a Code Enforcement employee had lied on her job application and failed to disclose a previous felony embezzlement conviction.

There was no disciplinary action taken against the employee. In fact, City Attorney Conley called her “one of the city’s best employees”.

Mayor Yenni also noted that, “She knows the ins and outs of the city.”

Robert Miles, the uncle of Mr. Metzler, believes that his nephew was followed because he acted as a whistleblower and brought attention to the missing money in the Code Department. Miles attended the Thursday disciplinary hearing and also spoke out at the Kenner City Council meeting.

“The timing is suspect,” Miles noted, since the surveillance began 11 days after media reports of the missing money.

Lots Of Questions And No Answers

With multiple issues in the Code Enforcement Department, why did the city chose to investigate Mr. Metzler instead of all Code Enforcement employees? Since the investigation was not precipitated by complaints from residents, and Metzler was the only employee under surveillance, the investigation appears to be retribution for Metzler’s whistleblowing.

There were many complaints about another Code Enforcement Inspector including allegations that the Inspector released the confidential identities of residents who filed complaints against their neighbors. Why was there no surveillance or investigation into his actions? Since the man is political supporter of Mayor Yenni, no disciplinary action has ever been taken against him.

Why, a month after the investigation was concluded, does the City not know how much it spent for the surveillance? District 2 Councilman Joe Stagni questioned the Yenni Administration about how much the city had spent on surveillance since Stagni was unaware of the City having a contract for private investigation services.

“I really don’t know at this point,” CAO Mike Quigley replied.

Quigley did confirm that the City has a contract with a Private Investigation company but stated that he was unaware of the contract’s financial cap.

The report from the Private Investigation Company, Foresight, LLC., states: “Foresight received this assignment from The City of Kenner and specifically Mr. Keith Conley.”

The Times-Picayune reported that Conley “said the investigator was hired under guidelines for professional services, which he said do not require council approval unless the cost of those services is more than $100,000.”

But, Conley fails to note that Mayor Yenni, and not City Attorney Conley, is the only person who can initiate a professional services contract. So, it is safe to assume that Mayor Yenni was aware of this surveillance and a pretty safe bet that Quigley knew as well and, since all three are aware of the contract’s existence, it stands to reason that they are also aware of the costs and the value of the contract.

So, why not just tell the truth?

The Fox Is Now Guarding The Hen House

Now that the Code Director has resigned, who did Mayor Yenni appoint as the Interim Code Enforcement Director? That’s right, City Attorney Keith Conley.

Aside from the fact that Conley has no experience in Code Enforcement, what message does this send to other City or Code Department employees who may want to discuss inappropriate actions in City government when Conley has the discretion to hire Private Investigators and have employees followed? If they speak out, will they face the same fate as Joey Metzler? Will they be surreptitiously followed and have someone report on every visit they make to a Kenner convenience store?

Does the City of Kenner really need to employ Gestapo tactics to monitor employees? The City and City Attorney Conley are already compiling a massive public records request from a former Kenner employee and current aide to JP Councilman Ben Zahn (who ironically defeated me in the 2011 election) into communications between a dozen city residents, including myself, employees of Veolia Water and a City Councilman.

Where does it end?

 What’s next? Wiretaps? Cameras on street corners to monitor movement? Has paranoia so clouded the judgment of Mayor Yenni that he feels the need for retribution or is he simply a bully who attacks everyone who disagrees with him? Obviously, the City employee who called me from her home phone instead of a city line to ask me about my dining habits was concerned about either possibility.

Author Hunter S. Thompson said, “This is the Nineties, Bubba, and there is no such thing as Paranoia. It’s all true.”

Actually, it’s 2013 and Hunter is dead. Of course, anything’s possible in YenniVille and it’s all true. I’m not creative enough to make this stuff up.