Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Another Kenner Resident Sues Yenni Administration

The ranks of Kenner residents suing the Mike Yenni Administration continues to grow.

On Tuesday, May 6th, civic activist Jack Zewe filed a “Writ of Mandamus” alleging the interim City Attorney Louis Gruntz is withholding public records and in violation of the state's public records law.

Zewe is seeking information about another lawsuit filed in May 2013 by Tanya Virgadamo against the City of Kenner and Kenner Fire Chief John Hellmers. Virgadamo’s lawsuit alleged that Hellmers, in his capacity as Fire Chief, discriminated against Virgadamo on the basis of her sex.

The lawsuit was settled on September 27th 2013, and last month, Virgadamo was finally installed as a Kenner Firefighter, despite applying two years earlier and being passed over several times; receiving a grade of 88 on the Jefferson Parish Firefighter Civil Service Test; and undergoing a series of physical and mental tests (all of which she passed) and an interview that “had the intended effect of discouraging females from accepting positions as firefighters in the city of Kenner”.

She became the 2nd female Kenner Firefighter. 

In addition, Virgadamo’s lawsuit claimed that despite passing a psychological test, Hellmers told her that she had failed and the test showed that Virgadamo was “unmotivated”.  Virgadamo consulted with the psychologist who administered the test and denied that Virgadamo had failed the test or was “unmotivated”.

Virgadamo’s suit also alleged that Hellmers verbally lied to her, claiming that she was passed over because she had not completed two firefighter courses. Virgadamo subsequently learned that those courses were not a prerequisite for employment.

In his lawsuit, Zewe contends that he filed a Public Records Request on April 21st 2014 seeking:

1). All invoices submitted for payment in the Virgadamo lawsuit

2). Documents related to any settlement agreement between Virgadamo and the City of Kenner

3). Documents related to any settlement agreement between Virgadamo and Hellmers

4). Attorney fees paid by the City of Kenner to the Virgadamo

On April 30th, Gruntz sent a response to Zewe denying Zewe’s request.

“Please be advised that the “Confidential Settlement and Release Agreement” executed by the parties as part of the dismissal proceedings in the Court contains a confidentiality clause which prohibits the release of, among other things: the terms and conditions of the Agreement, the settlement proceeds, any negotiations related to settlement, and all matters related to litigation.

Accordingly, the City of Kenner is not at liberty to divulge any of the information Mr. Zewe has requested. The only comments that the City can make regarding the litigation is that it has been amicably resolved and by mutual consent.”

While I understand the nature of confidentiality agreements, how can a legal settlement and legal fees paid for with public funds be “Confidential”? Shouldn’t the public, or at least the Kenner City Council, have a right to know how much money the poor decisions of a city official have cost taxpayers?

A source with the State Attorney General’s office refused to comment on Zewe’s suit or if confidential legal settlements involving public dollars were covered by an exception to the Louisiana Public Records law.

Zewe’s suit is scheduled to be heard on May 30th.