Friday, December 6, 2013

T-P Weighs In On Mayor Yenni’s $2.1 Million No-Bid Contract; Raises More Questions

Following up on our Wednesday post about Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s selection of a campaign contributor for a $2.1 Million no-bid contract for “Program Management” of his 2030 Plan, instead of selecting in-house staff to oversee the project and save the people of Kenner some money, Adriane Quinlan from the Times-Picayune brings some different angles to the party.

Also of note is the photo chosen to accompany the article. It’s a photo of Mayor Yenni speaking about the projects with Henry Shane, another Yenni campaign contributor and head of Yenni’s hand-picked Economic Development Committee, peering ominously in the background.

2030 Plan Budget Now Up To $37 Million

In the ordinance approving the $2.1 Million no-bid contract it was disclosed that, due to the inclusion of Federal and State grants, the budget for Mayor Yenni’s 2030 Plan has now increased by over $10 Million from $26.6 Million to $37 Million.

In July, wrote about a press release issued by Mayor Yenni that included some very telling lines and led to several more questions. Questions that are still unanswered.

1). Why didn’t Mayor Yenni apply for these Federal and State Grants and THEN borrow the money to fulfill his “Vision” of what Kenner should become? Wouldn’t that have been prudent and saved the people of Kenner years of repayment and tax dollars that could be better used on other projects like KPD and KFD equipment and personnel?

2). What new projects will this additional $10 Million be used to fund? The people of Kenner had no input on Mayor Yenni’s original package of improvements including beautification and public art projects. Will the public’s ideas and opinions also be shut out of these additional projects? Why does Mayor Yenni think that Kenner residents aren’t smart enough to have a say in the future of their city or how their money is spent?

Program Manager To “Shape Kenner’s Future”

The T-P article includes an interesting line:

“The program manager has the potential to shape Kenner's future, as well as the futures of the firms it oversees. According to a draft of an agreement for the position, the role of program manager will consist of overseeing the design and planning guidelines for every aspect of the engineering work related to the Kenner 2030 plan's infrastructure and enhancement projects.”

This statement alone should send shivers up the spines of Kenner residents.

Why would a non-elected “Program Manager” have the “potential to shape Kenner’s future”? Isn’t that why we elect a Mayor and City Council – to represent our best interests and move our city forward?

Sorry, I forgot for a moment that we’re discussing Kenner.

If a “Program Manager” is vital to shaping Kenner’s future, perhaps we should replace a Mayor who has never held a non-government job  and whose previous “Program Management” experience was devising a parade calendar for Jefferson Parish Mardi Gras Parades.

A Giant No-Bid Slush Fund?

The power given to a vendor is substantial. They, and not the city, will have the power to select subcontractors. Will this mean that the entire $37 Million 2030 Plan will become one giant slush fund of no-bid contracts? The Program Manager will also have authority over change orders, which could raise or lower the price of contracts.

If that is the case, why would Mayor Yenni not want to put all of the vendors through a city-imposed bid process to ensure that every penny of Kenner’s tax money is spent in an efficient, open and transparent manner?

“Program Manager” Or Political Cover?

As is typically the case, the primary reason that Mayor Yenni is giving a vendor this much power is simple: political cover.

If the 2030 Plan works, the Mayor gets the credit. If it fails, he can cast the blame on the vendor and, since the Program Manager has a 6-year contract, the problems will fall on the next mayor even if Kenner residents re-elect Mayor Yenni in the Spring.

This is a continued pattern for Mayor Yenni.

After the defeat at the polls of Yenni’s plan to double property taxes, the Mayor convened a “Streamlining Budget Committee”. That committee was tasked with slashing Kenner’s budget.

The reality of it was, the Committee was hand-picked by Mayor Yenni and its report was written by Mayor Yenni’s Political Consultant, Greg Buisson. Before it was released to the public, some members (including the only non-political appointee) hadn’t even seen a draft copy of the report – the Committee’s findings and report were written for them.

This deception was intentionally designed to provide Mayor Yenni with political cover. After he could gauge which areas were controversial and which struck a nerve with the public, Yenni could backtrack and claim that it was the committee’s suggestion and not his own.

We saw this firsthand when the Committee suggested closing 6 playgrounds. After community outrage, Yenni came back with a proposal to close 3 playgrounds. After still more outrage as more Kenner residents became aware of Yenni’s plans, he scrapped the playground closure plan entirely.

The same thing occurred with the Economic Development Committee and their input on Mayor Yenni’s 2030 Plan.

Initially, Mayor Yenni put forth a list of projects including rehabbing Kenner’s old high school and turning it into more city offices.

After there was pushback to that and other projects like extending Napoleon Avenue to the Airport access road, Mayor Yenni came back with a list of new projects, again without any public input.

Again, this was designed to shield Mayor Yenni from any negative pushback from the community. The Mayor could simply claim, “These were the recommendations of the committee”.

Sadly, some Kenner residents still believe Mayor Yenni on those rare occasions when he does speak and not use a “written statement” generated by his Political Consultant.

From the latest T-P article regarding the Program Manager selection:

"From a technical perspective, this is the city's next step to undertake this major program," Yenni said in a written statement.

May 22, 2013

It is interesting to note that, the City of Kenner’s request for a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) for vendors interested in becoming the “Program Manager” for the 2030 Plan was distributed on May 22nd, 2013, two days BEFORE the time period to challenge the proposed bond sale expired and months before the City Council actually gave their final approval for the bond debt sale.

This was also well in advance of any “Community Listening Sessions” that Mayor Yenni held to seek public input.

How can you select a “Program Manager” when

1). You haven’t sought any public input about the projects?

2). You haven’t finalized the projects that the “Program Manager” will oversee?

3). You don’t have the money or even an idea of how much money the projects will cost?

4). You haven’t received approval for any Federal or State Grants, a process that should have been the first step prior to asking Kenner residents to enter into 20 years of debt?

Obviously, despite his protestations to the contrary and all the fuss and misinformation Mayor Yenni threw out there regarding my lawsuit to challenge the bond sale, Mayor Yenni was already moving forward his “Vision” regardless of the lawsuit or even final Council approval, which didn’t occur until July 18th.

Was The Program Manager Selected The Top Choice – Or the 13th Choice?

Since as the T-P noted, “The program manager has the potential to shape Kenner's future”, shouldn’t the Council and the people of Kenner know exactly how many companies were interested in this project and how their qualifications were scored by the Evaluation Committee (as well as know who is on the Evaluation Committee and what their qualifications are for choosing a vendor)?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to the Council or the people of Kenner, or take a public records request form the Times-Picayune, to ensure that Mayor Yenni is choosing a qualified contractor.

A public records request seeking information on what firms applied for the work, and how they were scored by the committee, was not immediately available. Check back with for updates.

How can the Council, which now, due to the Charter Change approved by Kenner voters last year, is tasked with the additional oversight of these contracts, make a decision if they don’t have all of the facts in front of them?

This is a fundamental flaw in the process and another avoidance of openness and transparency by Mayor Yenni.

As noted by Kenner resident Jack Zewe, and echoed by District 2 Councilman Joe Stagni, Hunter Linfield & Junius is highly qualified.

That isn’t the issue.

The issue is, are they the most qualified?

Once again, at last night’s meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Maria DeFranchesch cited the Brooks Act, which mandates how certain professional services contracts are given. As noted, this contract does not fall under the Brooks Act or any other act.

However, Councilwoman DeFranchesch again outlined the procedure as picking the Top 3 candidates.

Sadly, until the public records request is reported by the Times-Picayune, Kenner residents won’t know if the company tasked with shaping Kenner’s future is the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or, as is the case with other no-bid contracts from Mayor Yenni to political contributors, the 9th or 13th highest ranked firm.

Hopefully, the city will produce the public records request in a timely fashion and we can get that answer.

I’m still waiting on the results of a public records request that I made on September 23rd. I think the 5-day period prescribed by state law is long overdue but, in Kenner anyway, Mayor Yenni makes his own rules.