Perhaps he has a Napoleon Complex but, for whatever reason, Jefferson Parish District 4 Councilman Ben Zahn just can’t seem to get along with people, especially those who criticize him.
I speak from firsthand experience.
Until Zahn heard that people were encouraging me to run for the Jefferson Parish council seat that he himself coveted, I actually had fairly cordial relationship with then-Kenner Councilman Zahn. We weren’t best friends by any means, but I didn’t think we were mortal enemies either.
Sure, I disagreed with some of his council votes but, I disagree with a lot of things the Kenner City Council does, and we disagreed on Mayor Yenni’s plan to double property taxes, but that shouldn’t make someone despise you, unless of course, your name is Mike Yenni.
Then I started writing about the Kenner Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (KCVB). Zahn was one of the Council’s representatives on the KCVB and the Officers of the KCVB were alleged to have misappropriated funds and paid for Kenner Recreation invoices without going through the proper bid channels.
Zahn also advertised his flower business on the KCVB web site which, since he voted on funding issues for the KCVB, some people considered that a possible conflict-of-interest.
In addition, it was odd that Zahn said that the KCVB board hadn’t held any meetings for 3 years but he never reported that to then-Mayor Muniz or Mayor Yenni.
Too many things weren’t adding up with the KCVB and Zahn and there were even more questions than answers.
When I contacted the State Legislative Auditor and asked him to investigate the KCVB and Zahn’s role in the group, it really hit the fan.
Even though it was about a month before the qualifying for the election, Zahn said that I was using the incident for my own political gain and he filed a lawsuit to try to stop me from writing and talking about his role in the KCVB.
Zahn claimed that I violated a state law that said that candidates couldn’t knowingly lie about another candidate. Given the lies that Zahn told about me during the campaign, that fact alone is ironic.
Since I simply asked the Legislative Auditor to investigate (which isn’t against the law), I wasn’t yet a “candidate” for anything, and Zahn was a public figure and I had the right to express myself under the 1st Amendment, a Judge ruled against Zahn’s attempt to get a temporary order to stop me from discussing his role and the KCVB mess.
Four days before the formal trial, and knowing that he would lose again, Zahn offered to settle. It then took Zahn months to pay the legal fees that were the result of the settlement and live up to his agreement.
After he won the election, Zahn continued for months to criticize me and Citizens For a Better Kenner (CFBK) in the Kenner Pravda, aka the Kenner Star.
Last year, when there was a special election held to fill the remainder of his term on Kenner City Council, Zahn again criticized me and CFBK even sending out an email to residents of his old council district calling myself and members of CFBK “political operatives”. Since, during the campaign, I was in the hospital being operated on, I could hardly be called a "political operative".
Then, for a year, Zahn laid low and, aside from the occasional spat with a JP Councilmember or three, he stayed out of sight.
The Lafreniere Park “Vision” and The Mother Of All Public Records Requests
Last month, he came out of hiding with a vengeance, firing a long-time volunteer Lafreniere Park board member who disagreed with Zahn’s attempts to politicize park events and give out contracts to Zahn’s friends and contributors.
In typical Zahn heavy-handedness, he blasted the two volunteer boards that operate the public park and told them that they needed to align themselves with his vision for the park, 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.
Advisory Board member Mettery Sherry summed it up best.
“I have no inkling as to what (Zahn's) vision or plans are."
Then, Zahn’s council assistant filed a massive PublicRecords Request seeking all communications between myself, officers of CFBK, our attorney, other Kenner residents, and Kenner District 2 City Councilman Joe Stagni. Councilman Stagni happens to be my district councilman and I am his appointee on the Code Enforcement Committee so, obviously, we do communicate.
But, seeking all correspondence between individuals and a councilmember, even if it is not related to official city business, is unusual especially considering that the Public Records Request sought all communications between any 2 of 12 people that were listed on the request. 11 of the 12 are not elected officials or government employees, meaning any communication between any 2 or the 12 or even 11 of the 12 are not public records.
So, what was the purpose of the massive Public Records Request, especially after Zahn's Political Consultant Greg Buisson has been so critical of other Public Records Requests? Probably a veiled threat and an attempt to either distract or shut down/shut up the targets of this inquisition.
Good luck with that one.
Next Up – The Ladies of CFGG
Now Zahn is attacking another good government group, Citizens For Good Government (CFGG).
For the record, I know three principals in CFGG personally. I’ve known Margaret Baird, Margie Seemann and Betty Purcell for several years and I’m a proud member of CFGG myself. I respect the work that they do and I’m proud to consider them “friends”. In fact, when I ran for office against Zahn, all three supported my campaign, walked neighborhoods and made phone calls.
Obviously, that didn’t get them off to a good start with Zahn.
At every council, as they’ve done for several years, the ladies read a list of campaign contributions to JP Councilmembers from businesses and individuals who are receiving Parish contract at that meeting. The ladies do meticulous research and have pushed the JP Council to be more proactive in their approach to contracts, contributions and ethics.
At this past Wednesday’s JP Council meeting, CFGG noted over $293,000 in campaign contributions to the seven JP Councilmembers from companies that would receive parish contracts at that meeting.
Some members of the council are obviously embarrassed by the exposure of these contributions and CFGG has gotten under the skin of a few councilmembers.
Pinch Hitting For Chris Roberts – Number Double Zero Ben Zahn
A few years back, Councilman Chris Roberts blasted the ladies of CFGG and their insistence in reading the campaign contribution list at every meeting.
“Anyone with a laptop can sit on the toilet at 5am and read the campaign finance reports,” Roberts said. “It’s not a secret.”
In what is typical for a client of Political Consultant Greg Buisson, if you don’t like the message – attack the messenger.
At issue is about $2,000 in contributions out of over $160,000 in contributions attributed to Zahn from contractors who had business before the council during the past three meetings.
While Zahn doesn’t dispute receiving these contributions, he still has the audacity to claim that CFGG is “inaccurate.”
It seems that Zahn is upset that, some of the contributions listed by CFGG occurred while he was a Kenner City Councilman and before he ascended to the JP Council. Little Ben claims that this is just not fair.
"You don't know what accurate means," Zahn said.
To which CFGG Vice-Chairman Margie Seemann replied, "We showed you how we computed every single figure," she said. "If you can't understand it, then it's your problem."
When it comes to “accuracy”, I would put my money on the ladies of CFGG before I would consider betting on an undocumented florist who for years claimed that he owned a third-generation flower shop that actually closed in 1999 and who was paid almost $50,000 from the campaign account of Aaron Broussard for “flowers”.
I don’t know about you but $50,000 is a lot of daisies bought purchased from an undocumented florist.
Because of Zahn’s continuing complaints, CFGG now separates the contributions that were received prior to someone’s election to the JP Council. Wednesday they noted that Zahn had received $35,329 in campaign contributions from companies seeking parish contracts at that meeting. Only $1,000 was contributed to Zahn before he became a JP Councilman.
But, whether you agree with CFGG or not, no matter how you slice it, it’s not good for an elected official to publicly argue with a citizen, or three, especially when the citizens in question are determined, honest women. But, whether it’s on the Kenner or JP Council, Zahn has shown a pattern of attacking anyone who dares to disagree with him.
I’ve seen Zahn shout at Kenner residents and other Kenner Councilmen when he was on the Kenner City Council and turn redder than a beet when someone addressed the council at criticized him.
As I’ve said, I admire the ladies of CFGG. I admire that they spend their time acting as watchdogs for the rest of us knowing that they will get verbally attacked by the likes of Zahn.
And, while the CFGG ladies certainly don’t need me to defend them, I would like to ask Zahn to pick on someone his own size and gender.
Since I know that is difficult for him, I’ll try to make it easier by getting down on my knees. This way, Zahn won’t need to jump or be lifted up on the shoulders of Chris Roberts.
But, knowing Zahn as I do, my gesture will probably be moot.
People like Little Ben never fight their own battles or write their own statements. They just attack and then hide when their lies are exposed.
But, they keep getting campaign contributions and we keep electing them. So, we’re as much to blame as they are.
Perhaps even more.