Friday, December 20, 2013

Is Broussard and Yenni’s Pal Really The “Best Man” To Oversee Kenner 2030 Plan?



Whether it’s changing your last name and the rumors of it being purely for political gain (Really now, would you rather vote for Mike Maunior, whose biggest claim to fame in public service was issuing the press release announcing Jefferson Parish’s Mardi Gras Parade Schedule and picking up former Mayor Phil Capitano’s dry cleaning, or Mike Yenni, grandson of the great Joe Yenni, a man so beloved that there are streets and buildings named after him and the nephew of the “real” Mike Yenni?); 

lying about his resume on his campaign web site weeks before his election (The web site guy made a mistake but “Director of Communications” does sound more important than “directed communications” and “Paralegal” sounds much more important than a $5.15 per hour “Clerk/Typist”); 

joining the military reserve again weeks before seeking public office (“Something I’ve always wanted to” but I waited until I turned 33 and it could help me in an election before deciding to join); 

his flip-flop after he lost the vote to double Kenner’s property taxes (He wasn’t “for” the taxes – he just wanted to give people a say in Kenner government: "Before I cut one more thing, I want the people of this community to tell me how they want their city governed.” BTW Mayor Yenni, we did by a 70-30% vote but, you still haven’t listened); 

or using committees like his hand-picked Streamlining Budget Committee and his also hand-picked Economic Development Committee as political cover (They wanted to close 6 playgrounds; I only want to close 3), when it comes to Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, nothing is ever really what it seems.

The latest case in point is the selection of a “Program Manager” for Yenni’s 2030 Plan.

Flawed Evaluation Process, Flawed Evaluation Committee

Yes, as Nola.com pointed out, Linfield Hunter & Junius was the highest rated company scored by the Evaluation Committee. On the face of it, everything looks like it’s on the up and up, right?

In Mike Yenni’s Kenner, nothing is on the up and up.

When you dig a hole in your backyard, the deeper you go, the dirt turns to mud. If you dig deeper, and while they did dig deeper, Nola.com only scratched the surface, you would see that the selection process was a very muddy affair.

The “Evaluation Committee” consisted of Deputy CAO for Public Works Jose Gonzalez, CAO Mike Quigley and Walter Brooks, the Executive Director of the Regional Planning Commission.

Gonzalez is a long-time political appointee who served decades in Jefferson Parish Government and was actually an unelected Parish President for about a week after then-Parish President Aaron Broussard resigned in the Tim Whitmer scandal. He is an engineer but an engineer who is keenly aware of which contractors contribute what to whom.

Quigley has no engineering background. He is also a long-time political appointee who also came from Jefferson Parish Government. Unlike Gonzalez however who came from Public Works and is working in Public Works, Quigley’s experience was primarily with Jefferson Parish’s Recreation Department. As Yenni’s right-hand man, Quigley is also acutely aware of every dollar that Yenni receives in campaign contributions.

Brooks, as the RPC’s Executive Director, is involved with hundreds of millions in contracts and also knows who is paying to play.

Hardly an objective group.

In fact, aside from his participation on the Evaluation Committee, Quigley’s scoring also leaves much to be desired.

The City of Kenner posted the advertisement for companies to submit their Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) for the Program Manager job on May 22nd. Ironically, this was 2 days before the period to challenge the bond debt sale which is funding this position and Mayor Yenni’s 2030 Plan and 2 days before I did file the lawsuit challenging the bond debt sale.  

So much for the argument that my lawsuit stopped the City from moving forward – but that’s another article.

The SOQ ranked companies in various categories including, according to Nola.com:

“Their capacity to complete the project; past performance on public projects; the nature, value and quality of those projects; continuing litigation concerning those projects; and the size of the firm and location of its office.”

Quigley ranked the 4th highest rated company overall, Hartman Engineering, as tied for #1 despite Hartman’s rank as the 13th highest rated contractor involved in the SOQ for another no-bid contract, this time a sewerage main.

How can a company be ranked 13th for a sewerage project but #1 for a project of this magnitude especially if one of the criteria is the “nature, value and quality of those (past) projects”?


The Cantrell Connection

The mitigating factor in granting Hunter Linfield & Junius this contract was their inclusion of Greg Cantrell.

Cantrell is a long-time Jefferson Parish and City of Kenner contractor and has received millions in contracts. He is a landscape architect and also one of the top political contributors in Jefferson Parish and has donated heavily to Mayor Yenni.

In fact, Cantrell and Hunter Linfield & Junius were each ranked in the Top 30 of Jefferson Parish Campaign Contributors by Nola.com, as was Henry Shane, the head of Mayor Yenni's Economic Development Committee. 

Hunter Linfield & Junius merged with Cantrell’s company shortly before submitting their SOQ to the City for the Program Manager job.

Cantrell’s list of contracts includes the neutral grounds on Veterans Blvd., designing the dog walk at Lafreniere Park and a 2008 contract to come up with a plan for revitalizing Kenner’s Rivertown (more on that in a minute).

Hardly the kind of work that would lead one to believe that Cantrell is “the best person to oversee the job in our opinion,” according to Gonzalez.

Cantrell was heavily involved in the public meetings Mayor Yenni was forced to have AFTER he received the initial approval for the bond sale from the State Bond Commission and the Kenner City Council.

In fact, Cantrell was front and center in the meeting presentations. It was Cantrell who echoed Mayor Yenni’s comments that the 10 projects proposed in the 2030 Plan “weren’t written in stone” and could change, a claim repeated often by another ally of Mayor Yenni and defender of no-bid contracts, District 4 Councilwoman Maria DeFranchesch.

DeFranchesch, a candidate for Kenner City Council-At-Large in the Spring, just held a fundraiser that was hosted by…wait for it…Mike Yenni. I wasn’t there but it’s a safe bet that Greg Cantrell was involved or present as he has written checks to Mayor Yenni and Councilwoman DeFranchesch, and many members of the Kenner City Council.

From the Nola.com article, “Gonzalez said Cantrell has the best experience to tweak the 10 projects while still ensuring they accord with the conceptual drawings already presented to the public”.


“Tweaking doctored photos” – sounds like a job for Greg Cantrell, and worthy of a $2,150,000 no-bid contract from Mike Yenni.


Ethics? We Don’t Need No Stinking Ethics – This Is Kenner

Cantrell was a member of Mayor Yenni’s hand-picked Economic Development Committee that promoted the 2030 Plan and pushed for the City to borrow $42 Million to fund Yenni’s “Vision”.

Months ago, I stated that no member of the Economic Development Committee should be allowed to profit from their involvement in the 2030 Plan.

Surely, no one would argue with that right?

Wrong.

Obviously, Cantrell will profit from his participation and friendship with Mayor Yenni, to the detriment of Kenner residents.

If it isn’t unethical for a member of the Economic Development Committee to profit from decision made by and promoted by the Committee, it should be.

At last night’s Kenner City Council meeting, District 2 Councilman Joe Stagni offered an amendment to categorically state that no family member of a City Council member would profit from the 2030 Plan. The amendment was defeated.

Clearly, under Mike Yenni and this Kenner City Council, “Open and Transparent Government” are foreign words.

For more on Yenni’s “Open and Transparent Government”, click here or here.


Cantrell, Broussard, Yenni and “Bacchanalia”

A April 22nd 2012 Nola.com article disclosed that Cantrell was a frequent guest of Aaron Broussard on Broussard’s annual ski trips. Nola.com described these trips as “Four-day bacchanalia for contractors with deep pockets to hobnob with Jefferson Parish’s political elite.”

“Bacchanalia” is defined as a “drunken” orgy.

Former Parish President Aaron Broussard, who was indicted, was one of Mike Yenni’s political mentors and Yenni learned much from his mentor.

So much for Mayor Yenni’s “Family Values”.



Cantrell and Yenni

As mentioned, Cantrell has contributed heavily to Mayor Yenni’s campaign account, and been richly rewarded for it. Cantrell has received many contracts from the City of Kenner and been appointed to several of Mayor Yenni's committees.

In addition to Cantrell’s membership on the Economic Development Committee, Cantrell was also a member of Mayor Yenni’s Inauguration Committee.

Also a member of Yenni’s Inauguration Committee was Dan Kelly, owner of Beads by The Dozen and a Director of Kenner City Events. Yenni has spent thousands of campaign dollars with Beads by The Dozen for Mardi Gras beads and Kenner City Events was the promoter of Yenni’s Annual Prayer Breakfasts which were supposed to benefit the Kenner Food Bank. While not benefiting the Food Bank, Kenner City Events did contribute money to the giant memorial to Kenner elected officials that Mayor Yenni recently unveiled and is sitting in Kenner’s City Council Chambers.

I wonder what the frame bill was for that.

The Inauguration Committee that Cantrell and Kelly were members of was tasked with soliciting donations for Yenni’s Inauguration which, according to Yenni, was estimated to cost $15,000 to $20,000. The actual price tag was north of $30,000.


When it’s other people’s money, I guess you can have all the “pomp and circumstance” you want right?


Cantrell and Rivertown

In 2007, Cantrell received a $53,000 contract from then-Mayor Ed Muniz and then-CAO Mike Yenni, to devise a plan to revitalize Rivertown.

At the time, I questioned why a “landscape architect” was given a contract for a revitalization plan.


“We’re happy with the plan,” Kenner CAO Mike Yenni said.

The plan also urges reopening the long-vacant Kenner High School building for commercial and retail use  Kenner is putting together a proposal to test interest from developers in leasing the property, Yenni said.”

Curiously, in the original project list for the 2030 Plan, rehabbing Kenner High School and turning it into city offices (not commercial and retail) was one of the primary projects.

The Kenner Pravda (aka The Kenner Star) labeled Cantrell’s Rivertown study as “Outstanding”.

“I think Greg did an excellent job,” Mayor Muniz said.

Curiously, that same June 2008 edition of the Kenner Star discusses a plan by Councilman DeFranchesch to rebuild Chateau Village and the “Great Plans for Laketown”.

That Allen Katz certainly has a way with words, doesn’t he?

We’re still waiting for both of those to occur and the Kohl’s that Councilwoman DeFranchesch promised us during her last political campaign.

In addition, the plan also discussed using Airport buyout property and converting it to farmland.

Farmland?

I'm glad that Mayor Yenni was "happy" with a plan turning Kenner into farmland. 

It’s little wonder why Cantrell’s plan for Rivertown has sat in Yenni’s drawer for almost 6 years.


It’s All In The Family

Greg Cantrell isn’t the only Cantrell family member to profit from his relationship with Jefferson Parish and Kenner politicians, Cantrell’s daughter also receives benefits.

Greg Cantrell has the contract to maintain the landscaping around the public art on the Veterans Blvd. neutral grounds. One of those pieces of public art is by Abby Cantrell, and Cantrell was paid for her work despite the fact that it was the original intention of Jefferson Parish that the public art be donated.

Abby Cantrell is also the primary beneficiary of Rivertown’s recent designation as a Cultural District since she is the only artist in the “Cultural District”.

If Mr. Cantrell’s dealings, connections and political contributions also favor his family members, what safeguards are in place so that contracts are also not funneled to companies that may employ some of his other family members or family members of Kenner City Council members or members of the Yenni Administration as Councilman Stagni suggested?


The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that this is more of the same, politics as usual from Mayor Yenni – use Kenner to benefit your friends, family members and contributors.

With the 2030 Plan budget now ballooning to $37 Million with the inclusion of State and Federal Grants, which should have been used to reduce Kenner’s indebtedness rather than adding more projects that the public has not vetted or desires, it’s simply a matter of time before Mayor Yenni will propose projects to curry more political favor with certain Councilmen who have turned their backs on the public in their search for campaign dollars to further their own political careers or benefit other friends and family members of Mike Maunoir/Yenni.

Recently, in addition to Councilwoman DeFranchesch, Mayor Yenni has also hosted political fundraisers streaming with Kenner City Contractors and their big checkbooks for District 5 Councilman Kent Denapolis and his bid to be promoted to Councilman-At-Large and District 3 Councilman Keith Reynaud. Yenni has also hosted fundraisers for other candidates who are jostling for City Council slots in the Spring.

The more money Yenni has to give to contractors, the more he can lean on those contractors to support and pay for not only his campaign, but the campaigns of those Councilmembers that can give him the votes to push through his no-bid contracts for his friends and contributors.

It’s a vicious circle but, in Kenner, it’s business as usual.

I also have a feeling that at least one of the new projects that Mayor Yenni is dreaming up for his booty of cash that wasn’t approved by the voters of Kenner will directly benefit Chateau Blvd. which resides in Councilwoman DeFranchesch’s district and is home to the Chateau Golf and Country Club, which is run by Mayor Yenni’s wife and owned by her family.

Just wait for it because I guarantee it’s coming.

But, the broader question is, with all of Greg Cantrell’s political connections to Mayor Yenni, the benefits he and his family members have received, the unfulfilled revitalization of Rivertown that Cantrell proposed and Yenni and Muniz thought was such a “great job” 6 years ago, and his complete lack of experience on a project of this scale and magnitude, a project that will reshape Kenner’s future in Mayor Yenni’s “Vision” (which was never approved by the voters of Kenner), is Cantrell really the best person the City of Kenner could find to do the job?

Really?

Why wasn’t there a nationwide search to truly uncover the best possible candidate instead of simply dismissing the notion of managing the projects in-house? 

On page 11 of The 2030 Plan listed on the City of Kenner’s web site, it recommends that the city “Hire 2 full time equivalent staff in the planning department that will monitor implementation and provide technical assistance to support implementation.”

At last night’s Council meeting, under questioning from Councilman Stagni, Gonzalez said that the city decided it would be cost prohibitive to follow that suggestion. As usual, he would not put forth specifics to illustrate his point.

Since the plan, and the suggestion, was crafted by Mayor Yenni’s hand-picked Economic Development Committee, why is Mayor Yenni running from that suggestion to benefit a campaign contributor?

Why are we getting someone that is so obviously politically connected to Mayor Yenni  and who will have the power to shape Kenner’s future regardless of their real qualifications, instead of seeking the best possible choice and ensuring that every dollar is spent wisely and efficiently?

Sorry, for a second there I forget I was writing about Mike Yenni and Kenner. Please disregard the last paragraph.

Merry Christmas Kenner! Thanks to Mayor Yenni there will be lumps of coal in your Christmas Stockings for the next 20 years. 

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