Tuesday, April 29, 2014

LA’s $5 Million “Efficiency Expert” Not So Efficient – Given Extra Month

The controversial $5 Million contract given to an “Efficiency Expert” hired by the Jindal Administration to find money-saving ideas for state government has proven to be not very efficient themselves.

Monday, Kristy Nichols, Governor Jindal’s chief budget advisor, said that the company, Alvarez & Marsal, wouldn’t complete its review of government operations until the end of May. Their report was due in mid-April.

Alvarez & Marsal was given a $5 Million contract by the Jindal Administration and tasked with finding $500 Million in savings and inefficiencies. To date, Nichols said that the company had found more than $70 Million in savings.

No wonder they need more time.

When the contract was given to Alvarez & Marsal, many lawmakers questioned the deal and added stipulations to the contract to ensure that the company’s recommendations were realistic and attainable and pegged the projected savings at $500 Million. The original contract with the Jindal Administration was open-ended and without a defined target.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oops…I Stand Corrected – Yenni Actually Wants a $35,000 Raise!

In my post yesterday regarding the 6 Proposed Charter Changes that will undoubtedly be approved to be placed on the November 4th, 2014 ballot by the Kenner City Council at Thursday’s meeting, I incorrectly used the wrong figure regarding the salary of Judges in the 24th JDC.

Proposed Charter Change #3 would tie the salaries of Kenner’s elected officials to the salaries of Judges in the 24th JDC and pay them a percentage of the Judge’s salary.

In my post, I used the figure of $125,000 annually for Judges in the 24th JDC.

As noted by Nola.com’s Ben Myers, the actual figure is $143,253, meaning that the actual salary increases are significantly higher than I had posted.

Under the new figure, which is adjusted annually by the State Legislature, Mayor Yenni’s salary would increase from $72,500 to $107,440 – a whopping 48% increase or almost $35,000 in real dollars.

Similarly, the Police Chief’s salary would increase to $100,277; the 2 At-Large Councilmen would see increases from about $26,000 to $35,813 (plus an additional 2% for the Council President and 1% for the Council Vice-President AND an additional $6,000 in an auto allowance); and the District Councilmen would see increases from $20,637 to $28,650 (plus the aforementioned $6,000 auto allowance).

Under a state law last year pushed by Kenner State Senator Danny Martiny, judges will also receive salary increases in each of the next 3 years – meaning Kenner elected officials will as well.  

Now, tell the truth – wouldn’t you like a 48% salary increase?

If I would have known that I might have knocked on a few more doors hustling votes…

If I only would have gotten that Times-Picayune endorsement...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kenner Council To Discuss 6 Proposed Charter Changes; Yenni Wants a $20,000 Raise!

At Thursday’s Kenner City Council meeting, the Council will vote on whether to place as many as six Charter Changes on the November 4th ballot.

In 2012, Kenner voters overwhelmingly approved two Charter Changes, one to limit political activities by non-civil service city employees and the other to mandate Council approval and an opportunity for public comment on all professional services contracts entered into by the Mayor over $100,000. Both Charter Changes were supported by Citizens For a Better Kenner (CFBK) and opposed by Mayor Yenni.

If these Charter Changes are approved by the Council and placed on the November 4th ballot, voters might have mixed feelings, approving some while voting against others.

Proposed Charter Change 1: The first proposed Charter Change would increase the size of the Council staff allowing each Councilmember to continue to have 1 aide each and allow up to 5 assistants to the Council Clerk. It would also make all of the Council’s Administrative Personnel non-civil service employees.

Rather than increasing staff, ClickJefferson.com proposes a flat budget for the Council with all Administrative Personnel paid from that budget. In this way, the budget would determine the amount of additional personnel and the Council would need to justify each new hire.

Proposed Charter Change 2: This proposed change would specify that all bond debt issues for which state law requires approval via a voter referendum be put before the voters.

CFBK sued the City and Mayor Yenni after Yenni took on the largest debt in Kenner’s history to fund his 2030 Plan without a voter referendum. Yenni contended that, since the bonds were “sales tax revenue bonds” and not “revenue bonds”, a voter referendum was not required. This Proposed Charter Change would not fix that loophole.

Essentially, this Charter Change removes the word "revenue" from the Charter. Instead of tightening the Charter to eliminate the opportunity for any Mayor to ever take on bond debt without a voter referendum (as many municipalities already do), this proposed change means that only those bonds that require a voter referendum per state law will ever have one.

Proposed Charter Change 3: This proposed change would tie the salaries of all Kenner elected officials (Mayor, Police Chief, Councilmembers) to a percentage of the salary of Judges in the 24th JDC.

The Mayor’s salary would be 75% of a judge; the Police Chief’s salary would be pegged at 70% of a judge; the Council-At-Large members would receive 25% of a judge’s salary; the District Councilmen would receive 20% of judge’s salary; and the Council President and Vice-President (typically the 2 At-Large Councilmembers) would receive an additional 2% and 1% respectively.

24th JDC Judges earn $125,000 annually. Currently, Mayor Yenni is paid $72,500 annually, the Police Chief is paid $68,500, the Council-At-Large receive almost $26,000 annually plus a bump for being Council President and Vice-President, and the District Councilmen earn about $21,000 annually (not including $500 per month in auto allowances for the Council).

The new plan would pay Yenni $93,750, an increase of over $20,000 per year. The Police Chief’s salary would increase to $87,500, while the Council-At-Large positions would be paid $32,150 (plus an additional $2,500 or $1,250 for Council President and Vice-President and the $500 monthly auto allowance) and the District Councilmen would be paid $25,000 (along with the $500 monthly auto allowance).

In addition to an immediate increase, as the salaries of the judges in the 24th JDC increase, so would the salaries of all Kenner elected officials.

The salary increase would take effect on 7/1/2015, meaning that it would impact all of the incoming Council along with Mayor Yenni and new Police Chief Glaser. While the Council might deserve a salary increase, no Mayor deserves a $20,000+ salary increase at a time when the city is declining in both population and revenue, and any proposed salary increase should take effect with the NEXT Council, Mayor and Police Chief, if at all.

Proposed Charter Change 4: This would allow the Council to hire their own full-time or part-time legal counsel. Several Councilmembers have long complained that the City Attorney repeatedly sided with the Mayor and did not provide them with impartial research and opinions.

Since the City is already paying a politically connected law firm, the Becknell Law Firm, thousands of taxpayer dollars to do routine real estate work and since three incoming Councilmembers, District 4 Councilman Lenny Cline, District 5 Councilman Dominick Impastato and former City Attorney and new Councilman-At-Large Keith Conley, are attorneys, this Charter Change appears to be just another windfall for a politically connected attorney.

Again, if the Council were given a set budget for their Administrative Staff, and felt the need to add an attorney, they would be responsible for justifying this cost. As it stands now with the makeup of the incoming Council and their allegiance to Yenni, this is unnecessary.

Proposed Charter Change 5: This would allow the Mayor to designate an “Acting Mayor” from his Administration if he was not available for 72 hours or more. Currently, the Council President becomes “Acting Mayor” in the Mayor’s absence.

This is a poorly conceived idea which would allow the city to be governed by someone who was never elected.

Proposed Charter Change 6: This would allow the Council to approve or disapprove the salaries of political appointees and set up a "pay plan" for political appointees. Currently, the Mayor has carte blanche to pay his political appointees whatever he desires, as evidenced by the recent hiring of Interim City Attorney Louis Gruntz at a salary of $30,000 more than the man he replaced. I have never seen a Council vote against a pay raise that was proposed by Mayor Yenni, even when citizens have questioned it. 

While this might be a good idea in theory, given the makeup of the incoming Council, I don’t expect them to turn down Mayor Yenni on anything.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Endorsement Game

When you’re running for public office, groups come out of the woodwork to conduct candidate forums – some to educate their members on you and the issues and some to endorse one candidate over another.

In this past election, Mike Yenni garnered every endorsement. This was not a surprise to me, as I honestly didn’t expect any group to endorse an upstart over an incumbent.

However, what was interesting was the makeup of many of these groups and their obvious biases. Without sounding bitter, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at these groups and their endorsement processes.

The Alliance For Good Government – The Alliance is a group of folks from varied backgrounds that comes out for every election and then disappears. They have no role in day-to-day government or acting as watchdogs for “good government”. I mean really, how much credibility can a “good government” group have that gave Kenner Councilwoman Maria DeFranchesch its “Legislator of the Year Award”? In 8 years on the Kenner City Council, I can’t tell you one meaningful piece of legislation that has been authored by DeFranchesch let alone one that could be considered “good government”.

The fact of the matter is, The Alliance is more of a marketing organization than an actual “good government” group. The primary focus of The Alliance is, does the candidate have the necessary funding to pay The Alliance the Thousands of Dollars necessary for The Alliance’s co-op advertising (that is run through a member’s company so that the member can receive the commission).

When I went to The Alliance’s endorsement meeting, I thought “The best that I can hope for is that The Alliance doesn’t endorse anyone.” I knew The Alliance would never endorse an underfunded candidate like me but, how could a “good government” group even consider endorsing someone who tried to double property taxes and opposed good government charter changes that were approved by the voters of Kenner by 70-30% voting margins?

So, considering that a city employee is a member of The Alliance and was allowed to participate in the endorsement vote, and that I was underfunded, it was not a huge surprise that The Alliance endorsed Yenni.

The Jefferson Chamber PAC – The Jefferson Chamber PAC did invite me to speak however I was not available during the times they had available. That being said, even if I would have been available, I wouldn’t have gone. The Chamber PAC consisted of several members of Yenni’s Economic Development Committee and campaign contributors. I knew that speaking to them would be a waste of time and, I learned afterward, that several other candidates in Kenner elections also didn’t think that speaking to the Chamber PAC would be a good use of their time.  

HISPAC – The Hispanic Political Action Committee is another ghost group that only comes out at elections. They represent no one and are simply a money machine to funnel advertising to Hispanic media and attempt to act important. They are led by a member of Yenni’s Economic Development Committee who appeared in one of Yenni’s campaign videos.

After agreeing to meet on one date, the group’s head, Dr. Vinicio Madrigal, changed the date to the night of March 5th, the day that he knew I was having surgery and would be unavailable. I asked Dr. Madrigal to provide me with a list of their Board Members so I could at least email them some information about why I was the better candidate to represent all of Kenner, and Dr. Madrigal ignored my request. That’s funny considering that he’s always quick to jump on Facebook to defend Yenni or criticize me.

What’s ironic is that, while the Yenni Administration has over 40 political appointees, only 1 is Hispanic (you will see those numbers again later). Since Kenner’s Hispanic population is almost 30%, a 40/1 ratio is hardly representative of Kenner’s Hispanic community. In addition, Yenni tried to close a playground that is used heavily by Hispanics, which I opposed.

But, HISPAC got their 30 pieces of Silver from Yenni and endorsed him anyway.

GAMBIT – I wasn’t surprised when Clancy DuBos and Gambit endorsed Yenni. I was surprised that they didn’t even call me to discuss the election. At least when I ran in 2011, they tried to hit me up for some advertising money.

Louisiana Weekly – This one was truly puzzling to me. As with Hispanics, the Yenni Administration has 1 African-American political appointee, despite Kenner’s 25% African-American population. In addition, Yenni tried to close Lincoln Manor Playground, which is in a heavily African-American area, and I fought against the closing. Also, South Kenner has been crying out for years for a library and I offered a plan to convert the old Kenner High School to a library and computer resource center while Yenni wants to remodel the High School and turn it into city offices.

But, the Louisiana Weekly Editorial Board never called me to discuss my campaign, my ideas or my pledge to represent ALL of Kenner.Christopher Tidmore did write a nice article about the campaign though.

GNOR – Greater New Orleans Republicans scheduled their endorsement meeting at the same time as a forum at the MLK Resource Center in Lincoln Manor. After looking at the makeup of their board, I decided it would be better to listen to the concerns of District 1 residents than talk to a minor group of Republicans stacked with Yenni loyalists and operatives.

NOMAR – The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors never called me to discuss the campaign which is surprising considering that Yenni’s plan to double property taxes would have had an adverse impact on property sales.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune – My favorite endorsement meeting was with Nola.com/The T-P. There, surrounded by people who I’m certain loathe people like me (bloggers!), it was a great joust. After discussing my leg injury, the first question was, “Considering all of your health issues with your leg, why are you running for Mayor?” Off to a great start with that one…

I gave the Editorial Board a packet of articles and editorials where they (the Editorial Board) had criticized Yenni and his Administration and where one of their Editors actually called Yenni “a fibber”, but they barely glanced it.

The Editorial Board seemed more focused on my snarky (their word) comments to the Candidate Questionnaire that they send out to candidates seeking information.

Some sample questions and my answers:

Q: “What schools do your children attend? For each school note if it is a public or private school.”
A: “If I had children, I would never answer such a ridiculous, intrusive question.”

Q: “Have you ever been convicted of, pleaded no contest to or placed in a diversion program for a crime other than parking and minor traffic offenses? (Driving while intoxicated is NOT considered a minor offense.).”
A: “No. But I was made to stand in a corner once for attempting a bloodless coup against my Pre-K teacher. I wanted less nap time.”

Q: “Have you ever bought or sold illegal drugs?”
A: “And I’ve never exceeded the speed limit or rolled through a stop sign either.”

Q: “Have you ever lost a lawsuit?”
A: “No. But Ben Zahn lost 2 lawsuits to me. Make sure that you remember that when he runs for re-election.”

Finally, after 4 pages of such questions, they finally asked:

Q: “What are the five most important planks in your platform?”

Now, we’re finally getting somewhere…

In retrospect, were my responses “snarky”? Yeah, of course they were. They were meant to be tongue-in-cheek. They were absurd questions that had nothing to do with running for Mayor of Kenner. Who cares what schools anyone’s children attend unless they are running for school board and who would answer such a personal question? Do you think I would want the newspaper publishing where my children go to school or take a chance on that information being leaked to the wrong people? Mike Yenni’s minions leave manila envelopes taped to my door with “threatening” information. Do you actually think I would want them harassing my children at school?

The Editorial Board didn’t see the humor in my responses and didn’t see the obvious hypocrisy of them endorsing a candidate that they frequently criticized.

But, it was a fun 15 minutes in the hot seat. That alone was worth the $450 “qualifying” fee.

Jefferson Parish Republican Executive Committee – I wrote yesterday about the Republican endorsement so, I won’t belabor the point here. But I will say that, as long as elected officials have a vote in the Parish endorsement, upstart candidates will never have a chance unless they are connected to Greg Buisson. And that is sad when you know that, regardless of your ideas, your platform or your background, you will never have an opportunity.

The Bottom Line – Most endorsements are worthless. However, their compound effect does sway some voters who see the momentum of one candidate and want to jump on the winning train.

Most of these groups are infiltrated with political operatives, supporters and contributors who’ve made up their minds before a candidate even opens his/her mouth. They, and the groups that they “represent”, already have an agenda. Whether it’s money or power or the mistaken belief that they have influence, they all have an agenda.

Did I lose the election because of endorsements? Absolutely not. But, are the endorsements “objective”? Again, absolutely not.

It’s up to individuals to cut through the clutter and make up their own minds and everyone should hold whomever wins accountable.

Everyone should be involved in their government. Not just the 20% or so that voted.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why, after 34 years, I am no longer a Republican

For my first post in 2 months and since my election loss, I thought it would be good to take a walk down memory lane.

When I was growing up in Erie, PA, it seemed like EVERYONE was a Democrat. My mother and father were Democrats. My grandparents and all of my relatives were Dems. One of my aunts (on my mom’s side) was a Democratic Ward Chairman. Her “job” was to get out the Democratic vote and she was very good at it.

The Mayor of Erie at that time and all of the Councilmen were Democrats. In fact, my dad had a City job that was given to him by the Mayor. Unlike some political appointees, particularly in Kenner, my dad actually knew what he was doing.

About 80% of my hometown were Democrats and the other 20% were too afraid to go out at night.

However, in spite of everyone around me being a “D”, or perhaps because of it, I was drawn to the Republican Party.

My first (and, thankfully, only) brush with the law came when I was 11. I was “arrested” for putting “Nixon – Now More Than Ever” bumper stickers on cars that were parked in a grocery store parking lot. Of course, I didn’t realize that the automobile owners had to give their consent to have the bumper stickers put on their cars.

After my dad and the powers that be (again, all Dems) intervened, my “punishment” was a few hours of elbow grease scraping off the bumper stickers and apologizing to several people that I didn’t know.

So, yes, I was a little overzealous in my “volunteering” for Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign.

When I turned 18, I couldn’t wait to register as a Republican. The first presidential campaign that I really volunteered on was Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, and I cast my first presidential vote for Reagan that election.

Later, I volunteered on Reagan’s 1984 campaign, George H.W. Bush’s 1988 and 1992 campaigns, and the campaigns of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. In fact, in 2004, I was a Precinct Captain for Bush/Cheney. My job, like my aunt’s decades before, was to get out the vote for W.

I’ve also volunteered or worked on numerous other Republican campaigns in addition to being the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and a Board Member of the Pelican State Pachyderm Club, a large Republican group.

So, why did I become a Republican?

Quite simply, I bought into Ronald Reagan.

Even at 18, I wanted less government. I wanted lower taxes. I wanted government out of my life.

So, why after being a lifelong Republican did I change my party registration today to Libertarian? Well, to be honest, two things happened: Mike Yenni and Roger Villere.

As most of you know, Mike Yenni was re-elected as Mayor of Kenner. He beat me but, he is only indirectly responsible for my changing parties.

When the Jefferson Parish Republican Party endorsed Mike Yenni, I knew that the Republican Party that I signed up for in 1979 was not the Republican Party of 2014 that I wanted to be a part of.

Oh sure, I had my doubts about John McCain and Mitt Romney, but, I could never bring myself to consider voting for an obvious Progressive like Barack Obama who sneered at every political ideal that I still clung to.

No, when the local Republican Party endorses Candidate Y, who tripled sewerage fees, tried to double property taxes, opposed Good Government Charter Changes that 70% of the voters approved, has grown government, and took on the largest debt in Kenner’s history without a vote of people over Candidate B (pretty clever, huh?), who opposed each of those things, either the Party doesn’t fit Candidate B or he doesn’t fit the Party.

I’m enough of a realist to know where I’m not wanted and, the Jefferson Parish Republican Party doesn’t want me or what I believe in.

So, how does Roger Villere fit into this blog?

I’ve known Roger for many years even, at one time, considered him to be a friend. I’ve interviewed Roger on the radio, published his press releases on ClickJefferson.com, and supported his efforts as Party Chairman.

However, today Roger went off the deep end and there is no turning back.

By now, I’m sure that you’ve all read about Louisiana Congressman Vance McAllister and his episode(s) with a married staffer. McAllister is also married.

While I don’t condone McAllister’s actions, or the actions of the married staffer, that’s his personal life – it has nothing to do with him being a Congressman.

In that past, I defended Senator David Vitter, and other elected officials, when they’ve made personal transgressions that were not directly related to their positions.

Again, I wasn’t condoning Sen. Vitter’s actions, or the actions of anyone. But, I didn’t believe then or now that Sen. Vitter, or any elected official, should resign because of a personal transgression.

But, the same can’t be said for Roger Villere, the head of the Louisiana Republican Party.

In a statement, Villere said:  

“The Republican Party of Louisiana calls on Vance McAllister to resign his seat in Congress. Mr. McAllister's extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics. A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress. A video showing him engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of Congress, on public time, in a public office, with one of his employees, was the focus of the national press for days. I call on Mr. McAllister to put the interests of his nation, state and party above his own and step aside.”

What about the interests of the people who elected him?

Where was Roger Villere when David Vitter was caught up in a personal scandal?

Where is Roger Villere now and why isn’t he telling David Vitter to NOT run for Governor?

When Villere refers to “McAllister’s extreme hypocrisy”, perhaps he should look at himself in the mirror because, while McAllister’s indiscretion may or may not blow away, Vitter’s hangs over him and our state like an Albatross and that Albatross will grow to gigantic proportions if Vitter is elected Governor of our state.

No, the fact of the matter is, Villere and the state Republican Party didn’t support Vance McAllister when he ran and now they smell blood in the water. If it wasn’t for this video, I’m sure the party would have found some other reason to turn on McAllister if he voted the wrong way or didn’t eat seafood on a Friday during Lent.

Did McAllister do something stupid? Of course, but, people do stupid  things every day (Remember Mike Yenni trying to double property taxes?) and, as long as it’s not criminal, he should keep his seat.

The voters, and only the voters, of his Congressional District should determine whether or not Vance McAllister resigns or if he is re-elected, not the Chairman of a political party.

What Roger Villere and many in the Republican Party don’t understand is that the reason “why ordinary people are fed up with politics” is because of the hypocrisy of the two-parties.

What, besides being anti-abortion, does the Republican Party stand for? What happened to cutting the budget deficit, reducing government, lowering taxes? How can the Louisiana Republican Party be for “family values” when they want to bash someone who is not favored by the party, while supporting and defending David Vitter?

When I ran against Mike Yenni, I didn't discuss the multitude of rumors about his personal life, the FBI investigation into his emails and texts (other than saying that the investigation is closed and we still haven't been told the entire story by Yenni and the public hasn't seen those emails and texts), or any other "sordid" tidbits that people told me. I wanted to beat Yenni on this issues. 

As I said, I supported and defended David Vitter and I would do the same for Vance McAllister. I care about how he votes on issues, not his personal life. The Louisiana Republican Party should too.

And the Democrats? Well, they truly are the “entitlement” party. We all know what they stand for and, if you’re on the receiving end of those “entitlements”, you may be a Democrat. Clearly, I’m not going to be a part of that party either.

So, since we’ve clearly determined that I can no longer be a Republican (that is, if I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not see a hypocrite looking back at me), and I also clearly cannot be a Democrat, why did I become a Libertarian?

Because, quite simply, Libertarians believe in less government and lower taxes and that, along with being Pro-Life, are at the core of my personal political philosophy.

Do I buy into everything that the Libertarians list in their party platform? Of course not. But, at their core, the Libertarian Party believes in personal accountability and personal liberty – and that is my core.

We live in America – the “land of opportunity”. Nowhere else on earth do people wake up with the opportunities that we have and that most of us take for granted. We can can do anything, be anything. We can dream big dreams and, if we work hard and it fits into God’s plan for us, we can achieve those dreams. That is, as long as government stays out of our way and we don’t hurt other people in the process.

That’s what I think Libertarian’s believe.

 And that is why I am proud to be a Libertarian.

That is, if they'll have a former "lifelong Republican".