Friday, November 8, 2013

Kenner Purchased



It was a sad day on Thursday for Kenner residents as the Kenner City Council sat idly by while Mayor Mike Yenni doled out over $600,000 in non-emergency, no-bid professional services contracts to his campaign contributors.

What made matters worse was not the bogus rationalizations of Yenni’s hand-picked #2 man, Jose Gonzalez, but the fact that, not only did the Council do nothing to stop this shameful practice, they were complicit in the process.

Last year, the City Council unanimously approved placing two changes to the Kenner City Charter on the ballot. One proposal dealt with subjecting no-bid contracts valued over $100,000 to have public comment and the approval of the Council.

The charter change was approved by a 70-30% margin.

The intent of this charter change was to eliminate all non-emergency no-bid contracts and add a layer of openness and transparency that did not exist in Kenner City Government.

Previously the Mayor had the power to distribute no-bid professional services contracts to whomever he wished without public comment or council approval. This power to dole out contracts gave the Mayor a powerful tool to leverage city contractors for campaign contributions.

And leverage campaign contributors is a lesson that Mike Yenni has learned well.

If you’re a business man, Mike Yenni is a great investment. A few thousand dollars as a campaign contribution can, and does, lead to hundreds of thousands in work for your company.

Yenni has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies that are seeking contracts with the City and that figure will only increase exponentially now that Yenni has almost $30 Million in new bond debt available to pass out like Halloween candy to his campaign contributors.

At Thursday’s council meeting, Mayor Yenni offered up two more non-emergency, no-bid professional services contracts to benefit his campaign contributors.

The contracts, approved unanimously by the Council and without public comment, went to Digital Engineering & Imaging ($385,000) and Hartman Engineering ($218,345). Ironically, both contracts are for sewer force mains at the same sewerage transfer station.

Let’s hope the companies don’t bump into each other.

While Fox 8’s Lee Zurik and Manuel Torres from Nola.com are doing some great work exposing campaign contributions on the state level in their “Louisiana Purchased” series, Adriane Quinlan of Nola.com lifted the veil on campaign contributions purchasing influence in Kenner and implicated Yenni and the Council.

Digital's job is valued at $385,000 Since 2009, according to affidavits that it submitted, the firm has contributed $13,450 to Kenner incumbents: $5,000 to Mayor Mike Yenni, $2,750 to Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch, $1,250 each to council members Michele Branigan and Jeannie Black, $1,000 each to council members Joe Stagni and Kent Denapolis, $700 to Councilman Keith Reynaud and $500 to Councilman Gregory Carroll.

Hartman's job is valued at $218,345 Since 2006, according to the years of contributions that the firm included in its affidavits, the firm and its owner, B.K. Sneed, have contributed $16,000 to Kenner incumbents: $7,500 to Yenni, $2,500 to Branigan, $2,000 to DeFrancesch, $1,500 to Carroll, $750 each to Black, Denapolis, and Stagni and $250 to Reynaud. In the 1990s, Sneed was public works director under Jefferson Parish President Michael J. Yenni, uncle of the Kenner mayor.

It is no surprise that Yenni had his greedy hands out and got paid by Digital and Hartman but it was not disclosed by the Council that each of them had their palms greased too.

Shouldn’t the Council, which, allegedly, are the “Stewards” of our tax dollars either raised an objection, publicly disclosed the contributions that they received and acknowledged their relationships with these vendors and then abstained from voting? Wouldn’t that have been in the best interest of the people of Kenner that they were elected to represent?

Instead, following Mayor Yenni’s “Leadership by Example”, the Council was in on this tax payer fleecing too.

When District 2 Councilman Stagni raised a question about the process, Gonzalez did his best to fumble out a response.

Public Works Director Jose Gonzalez said the firms were selected through Kenner's typical procedure for professional services contracts. Interested firms submit statements of qualifications, and a committee grades the submissions "Based on the committee and the grading, all the consultants are selected," Gonzalez said.

He said price was not a consideration in the selection, and he would not know what the firm price until the contracts are negotiated.

What???

$600,000 in Kenner tax dollars and “price was not a consideration”?

If the price of a non-emergency, no-bid contract is not a consideration, don’t you think it should be?

If these contracts were put through a competitive bid process, is it not reasonable to assume that the people of Kenner could have saved tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, in tax dollars?

And, is it also not safe to assume that, if the contracts were combined and given to one contractor, that the total amount would have been lower and the people of Kenner also saved money?

Sadly, neither occurred.

Now, “technically”, the council can hide behind their charade and say that they fulfilled the charter change’s directive and they reviewed the contracts as they were charged.

But, there was no public comment. Aside from Councilman Stagni’s question, there were no other comments from any council member and no disclosure that they too, like Yenni, had their hands in cookie jar.

In essence, Mayor Yenni and the entire Kenner City Council thumbed their noses at the 70% of Kenner voters that approved the charter change with the intention of ending nonsense like this.

And, while certainly not the first time that Yenni has done a favor for his contributors or thumbed his nose at the people of Kenner, the arrogance of Mayor Yenni and the collusion of the Council is disappointing nonetheless.

Despite an overwhelming approval of a charter change and a unanimous vote by the council, Mayor Yenni does whatever he desires with tax dollars and is not held accountable by the council.

And that’s why, unless you are one of Mayor Yenni’s many campaign contributors, Thursday was a sad day in Kenner.

How many more sad days and how much more financial pilfering at the hands of Mike Yenni, and with the acceptance of the city council, can Kenner endure?

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