Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Yenni’s Reelection Lies Begin Before Campaign Even Starts

“Old habits die hard.”
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho

” Kenner mayor candidate Mike Yenni’s Web site told some tall tales this week about one of his former jobs and the money he controlled in another job.”

As is always the case with Yenni, he deflected responsibility for the lies.

Yenni said both statements were mistakes and blamed them on the person who created the site.

"I'm going to have a long talk with my Web designer," Yenni said.

He said the designer is "a friend of a friend" who lives out of state and does Web site design on the side.

In another article, the T-P politely called Yenni “A Fibber”.

In a speech last night at the Chateau Golf & Country Club (of course), Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni announced he is seeking reelection for another 4-year term.

It wasn't really a "speech" as much as it was a highly crafted look through rose-colored glasses written by Yenni's "political consultant" and awkwardly delivered by a man who lives to read his own press clippings (and have them framed).

The Washington Post has a “Fact Checker” column that rates political claims on “The Pinocchio Scale” from 1 Pinocchio (“Some shading of facts.”) to Four Pinocchios (Whoppers).

In reading the account of the speech (you didn’t really think I was invited did you?), using the Wash Po’s scale, Yenni’s speech was about a 12 (Triple Whopper with Cheese Combo Meal).

Let’s examine, shall we?

1). "Let this announcement herald the message that Kenner is where ethics and government and rational reforms thrive."

Did Yenni actually say that?


You have a Fire Chief who was caught claiming extra supplemental pay for certificates that he never had. When he was exposed, Yenni dragged his feet so long that Chief Hellmers claimed that he shouldn’t be punished because the time limit for the investigation had expired. Hellmers even went to court in the 24th JDC after the Kenner Civil Service Board ordered him to repay the money that he never should have received in the first place. So, not only did Hellmers get an interest-free loan from you, you also paid even more for the City of Kenner AND the Kenner Fire Department to each hire attorneys to defend Hellmers court case. 

Now that is really the definition of a “frivolous” lawsuit.

Yet, Hellmers is still employed.

“Government reforms?”

In 2012, the voters of Kenner, by 70-30% margins approved 2 changes to the City Charter. One was designed to eliminate no-bid, non-emergency contracts and called for Council approval and an opportunity for public comment on any Professional Services (No-bid) Contract with a value over $100,000.

Mayor Yenni vigorously opposed this Charter Change and, despite the intent of the law, has continued to snub his nose at the people of Kenner.

I guess Mayor Yenni didn't support those "Government reforms" that 70% of Kenner voters did. 

I would appreciate it if any reader could show me any "Government reform" that Yenni does support.

2). Yenni said that he had "kept every single campaign pledge" that he had listed in 2010.

In 2010, in the Times-Picayune, Yenni listed five items under “Philosophy and Platform”.

Three of the five listed are:

•Continue to post all bids, contracts and requests for proposals online and hold town hall meetings regularly.

The Times-Picayune called the Kenner contract selection of major Yenni campaign contributors who were the 9th and 13th highest-ranked contractors for over $600,000 in no-bid contracts “murky”

And, in 2012, the Times-Picayune wrote an editorial critical of Yenni for renewing the city’s trash contract with Ramelli, another campaign contributor, WITHOUT putting one of the largest contracts Kenner has out to bid.

Mayor Yenni unilaterally extended the city's garbage collection contract for another five years, without seeking competitive bids or even making a request for alternative proposals.

Doubling the contract's duration to 10 years without testing the market to see if Kenner is getting the best possible deal is irresponsible and a disservice to residents.

They called Yenni’s claim that he had to renew Ramelli’s contract or risk losing their rates “Bogus”.

Kenner could have tested the market and agreed to renew the existing contract only if a better offer didn't come along. And in almost every case, local governments that have opened professional contracts to competition in recent years have saved money.

The “regular town hall meetings” statement is also a broken promise.

Aside from when he trotted out his plan to double your property taxes, and then again after he was shamed by the Council into holding meetings to let the public see his 2030 Plan, when exactly were the “regular town hall meetings”?

• Institute a code of ethics for all employees and a code of conduct for city vendors and contracts.

What “code of ethics” could possibly allow an employee to falsify records and get paid several thousand dollars that he didn’t earn, and not get fired or allow a Recreation Director to sell “naming rights” to a field that the city doesn’t even own and still be employed?

In anotherTimes-Picayune editorial, the newspaper wrote:

It's also troubling that the Kenner Sports Foundation website made inaccurate claims, including that the organization had nonprofit status and that it planned to try to sell naming rights to Muss Bertolino football stadium for $200,000 for 10 years.

When the “naming rights” issue was exposed, only then did the Recreation Director resign from the Kenner Sports Foundation. But, he still has not resigned or been terminated from Kenner City Government. 

The Times-Picayune said, “Kenner officials should have acted sooner.”

That Editorial was printed in August of 2011. 

A few months back, the Kenner Police Department investigated allegations of improper cash-handling in the Code Enforcement Department. The City also took the unusual step of placing several Code employees under surveillance. Yet, no disciplinary action was taken.

By the way, in his inauguration speech almost 4 years ago,Yenni contradicted his own "campaign promise" saying, "We will continue the code of ethics for all employees. We will add to that by instituting a code of conduct for all city vendors and contractors to follow." 

How can you “institute” and “continue” the same thing?

• Create an economic development task force and hire a director to lure "family-wage" jobs to Kenner and stimulate business growth.

This one is really interesting to me and shows Yenni’s pattern of deception.

Rather than keep his promise and hire “a director to lure ‘family-wage’ jobs to Kenner and stimulate business growth”, Yenni punted and decided to pay JEDCO hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide economic development to Kenner.

For paying JEDCO hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars and reneging on his "campaign promise" to hire an Economic Development Director, JEDCO gave Yenni an award.

Trust me, when I’m elected, the chances are slim that JEDCO will ever give me an award.

Yes, Kenner has a shiny new theatre to replace an older theatre, a Target and Coconut Beach but businesses, retail stores and restaurants are closing almost daily in Kenner.

The Esplanade Mall just announced that two major retailers are closing and leaving Kenner. Fox 8 said that Mayor Yenni was “blindsided”.  Dillard’s downsized to an outlet store. There are persistent rumors that Macy’s will be next to close.

Will he be “blindsided” when Macy’s closes too?

Councilwoman DeFrancesch claims that The Esplanade Macy's is one of the Top 5 grossing stores in the company. If that were true, I doubt that there would be constant rumors of its demise. 

The shopping corridor at West Esplanade and Chateau is virtually desolate. The Rite Aid location at 33rd and Williams closed. Williams Blvd. is littered with vacant storefronts and restaurants – the old TeCoRo’s became Sakora and closed; Johnny Trauth’s relocated and the old location has sat vacant for years.

The Kohl’s promised 4 years ago by Yenni and Councilwoman DeFrancesch never materialized. In the Fox 8 story about The Esplanade, DeFrancesch was so bold that she mentioned bringing Belk’s Department Store to The Esplanade.

A Belk’s spokesperson said that “Kenner isn’t even on our radar.”  


Now, Yenni wants to focus on economic development.

Where has he been for the past 4 years?

For that matter, where has he been for the past few weeks.

3). "Contractors and business owners earn contracts and jobs because of what they know, not who they know."

Adriane Quinlan, the reporter who covered Yenni’s speech noted the irony in Yenni’s words.

In the audience sat representatives of contractors that had given Yenni campaign contributions, including B.K. Sneed, the owner of Hartman Engineering who along with the firm has donated $7,500 to Yenni's campaign coffer.

As mentioned above, Yenni recently gave over $600,000 in no-bid contracts, one of them to Hartman Engineering. 

Yenni has raked in several Hundred Thousand dollars in campaign contributions, using much of that money to enhance his own lifestyle. 

The past few years, Yenni has spent Tens of Thousands in campaign contributions for Mardi Gras beads, balls and Krewe dues; over $16,000 in frames; funneled $11,000 back to Chateau Country Club (run by his wife and owned by her family); $7,500 at restaurants, primarily in Orleans Parish and including a $1,400 and a $1,000 dinner bills at Antoine's; and Thousands more in gifts and gift cards - all paid for with campaign contributions.

Ironically, Councilwoman DeFrancesch, who is seeking a promotion to Councilman-At-Large was in a video endorsing Yenni as was District 3 Councilman Keith Reynaud. Both recently held fundraisers hosted by Mayor Yenni  with many of the same people who went to Yenni’s campaign kickoff in attendance.

So much for contractors earning contracts not because of “who they know” or who they give campaign contributions to.

4). “I streamlined government. Cut the budget. Consolidated departments and I took cuts in my own pay. “

Where do I begin…

First, it’s disingenuous to claim to “streamline government” and “consolidate departments” when the City of Kenner currently has more Departments and highly-paid political appointees than ever.

Yes, Mayor Yenni did consolidate the Community Services and Recreation Departments. But, that’s it.

When Yenni has had the opportunity to really consolidate Kenner City Government and seriously streamline government, he has chosen to do the opposite.

Rather than consolidating the Purchasing Department, leaving a Director’s position unfilled, and moving oversight to the Finance Director (as listed in the Kenner City Charter), Yenni filled the position.

For several years, Kenner had a Deputy CAO and Director of Public Works. Prior to the Yenni Administration, Kenner had only one head of Public Works.

Yenni created the Office of Emergency Management.

He hired an Internal Auditor to work out of the Mayor’s Office rather than be truly independent.

Yenni promoted Mike Quigley from Deputy CAO to CAO and then promoted the Internal Auditor to Deputy CAO.

He created the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications and installed a former aide as Director. She now earns $67,000 plus benefits, a hefty raise from her days as Secretary/Administrative Assistant to Yenni's former boss, Ed Muniz, and much more than her job prior to joining the City of Kenner as a Legal Assistant to a real estate title company.

Yenni created the position of Assistant Clerk of Court and filled it first with the former Public Information Officer and, currently with a former newspaper reporter.

I never realized that the primary function of the Assistant Clerk of Court was to write Press Releases. 

Guess you learn something every day.

And, most recently, after the Code Enforcement Director resigned, rather than consolidating Code and moving it under the Legal Department, since the position has so much legal work involved and as many cities have done, Yenni filled the position with…you guessed it: an Attorney.

The Kenner City Charter, approved by voters in 2007, calls for 9 city departments – Law, Finance, Public Works, Fire, Police, Planning, Community Service, Personnel and Civil Service.

The Yenni Administration has 16 city departments – Law, Finance, Public Works, Fire, Police, Planning, Personnel, Civil Service, Purchasing, Fleet Management, Inspection and Code Enforcement, Community Development, Clerk of Court, Parks and Recreation, Office of Emergency Management and Information Technology & Telecommunications.

Whew...Trying saying that three times fast. 

While it's been some time since I studied Math, I don't know how 9 becoming 16 is "consolidating". Maybe it's the New Math or Common Core. 

Of course, 16 City Departments means 16 City Directors and almost as many Assistant Directors, all political appointees of Mayor Yenni. 

When you take into account that the combined salaries and benefits for each Director and Assistant Director average between $100,000 and $150,000 per Department, it's no wonder that Mayor Yenni said that he needed to close playgrounds to balance the budget. 

I know Kenner residents can sleep peacefully knowing that former Assessor Lawrence Chehardy (who was also at the party touting Yenni), did such a bang-up job on the Streamlining Budget Committee that Yenni formed, that Yenni only tried to close 3 playgrounds instead of the 6 that Chehardy sought to close.

As I'm sure you know, after citizen complaints and push back from some Kenner City Council members, no playgrounds were closed. 

I'm also sure that, by not closing the Highway Park, Lincoln Manor and Westgate playgrounds, it ruined Mayor Yenni's plans for even more City Departments and Directors.

 So much for “consolidating departments” and “streamlining government”.

The "cuts in my own pay" line also defies reality.

The Mayor of Kenner earns $72,500 plus benefits.  That hasn't been reduced under Mayor Yenni, despite Kenner's shrinking population.

Yes, Mayor Yenni has declined to take the auto allowance that is offered as part of his pay package. 

But, what Mayor Yenni doesn't tell you (nothing is ever really what it seems with him) is that from July 2010, when he took office, through July 2013, he spent over $16,000 in taxpayer dollars on fuel and vehicle maintenance. 

While not accepting a cash auto allowance is noble, it's hypocritical to accept taxpayer funded fuel and maintenance and say "Look. I cut my salary." 

Like I said, on a scale of 1 – 4 Pinocchios, I think the Washington Post would give Yenni’s campaign kickoff speech a 12.

When I have plenty of spare time, I’ll take a look at Yenni’s new campaign web site.

There’s no telling how many Pinocchios and Whoppers I’ll find there. 

See. I told you this was going to be fun.