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, 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.