Monday, May 5, 2014

Yenni, Reynaud Propose 50% Raises for City of Kenner Workers

Gotcha didn’t I?

Since I was otherwise disposed on April Fool’s Day, I thought that I would start a new tradition before heading over to the West Bank to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Cuco’s (where else would you celebrate Cinco?) and have a little bit of fun.

Hey, if Mayor Yenni can change Veterans Day to Richard Simmons Day, I should at least be allowed to add something to Cinco de Mayo.

Just a few weeks after Kenner District 3 City Councilman Keith Reynaud proposed a charter change that would have given Kenner Mayor MikeYenni a 48% salary increase and council members increases of 29-39%, Yenni unveiled his 2014-2015 budget which includes a 3% salary increase for City of Kenner employees.

And, if anyone other than the Times-Picayune, believes that Yenni knew nothing about Reynaud’s proposed charter change and the plan to significantly increase Yenni's salary, I have an old Mississippi River Toll Bridget that I can sell you – cheap!

As in years past under Yenni, the 3% salary increase is for all Kenner employees including his political appointed Department Directors who earn from $50,000 to over $100,000 each and receive a monthly auto allowance and cell phone/data allowances.

The 3% salary increase amounts to a veritable windfall for Kenner firefighters who have typically received only a 2% salary increase as mandated by state law.

The 3% increase means a beginning Kenner firefighter’s pay will increase by about $600 a year, or about $50 bucks a month – about a tank of gas a month while KFD Chief John Hellmers, who is just bidding his time while he waits to collect another government pension, will get an increase of over $3,140 per year.

Maybe with the salary increase Hellmers can repay the money that he stole from taxpayers when he gave himself thousands in supplemental education pay for certifications that he didn’t have.

For the record, I think that it’s fantastic news that Kenner can afford to give its employees another raise after Yenni claimed that Kenner was a “dying city” and there would be massive cuts when his plan to double property taxes failed, and it’s fantastic that KFD firefighters get a little more than the state mandated annual raise that they normally receive, but I continue to question why political appointees, who are already feasting off the public trough and receive substantial pension plans for their services, continue to see salary increases.

Of course, according to Yenni, “A leader with a vision of prosperity and growth” (Don’t believe me? Just ask him – it’s on his resume) and his “strong team of accomplished government administrators” (also from his resume), deserve every penny.

I guess it’s not enough that our current Information Technology Director received a $20,000+ salary increase when she was given her current position. You would think that someone earning $67,000+ benefits (or the equivalent of 2 KFD Firefighters or 2 KPD street-level Officers) would have an extensive background in Information Technology and years of government experience.

And, the background of this “accomplished government administrator”? Prior to becoming former Mayor Ed Muniz’s secretary, she was a secretary at a real estate title company.

Now, I’m all for people moving up when they are qualified. Kenner’s Personnel Director spent over 20 years working her up within the Personnel Department before she was promoted to Director in 2012. The City’s Purchasing Director spent 8 years as the Assistant Purchasing Director and 13 years before that working for the City before she was elevated to Director.

So, the near meteoric rise of someone without any background in IT or City Government (who earns more than both the Personnel and Purchasing Directors) should trouble Kenner residents.

It’s even more troubling when a high-ranking City official says that most Department Directors haven’t been trained on the City’s software system and that the City isn’t “using it fully”, when that should be the IT Director’s primary job.

And, she’s not the only example of someone without any prior Government management experience leading a Kenner department.

The current Clerk of Court was a teacher and the Marketing Coordinator at Rock & Bowl before she was named Clerk of Court in 2006. She also earns less than the IT Director, despite being a Department Director for 8 years.

The current Deputy CAO was hired in 2010 as the city’s Internal Auditor. In salary and auto/cell phone allowances she earns $85,600. Her background prior to joining the City of Kenner? She worked for a Texas Homebuilder and an Insurance Adjuster.

Now my point isn’t that these people are bad people (well, KFD Chief Hellmers is), or that they haven’t grown into their jobs or are doing a bad job.

My point is simply that they earn more than enough money for the positions that they are in when compared to their backgrounds and that, even with a 3% salary increase, there are City of Kenner employees who are grossly underpaid.

Is it fair that a Kenner Firefighter, who puts his life on the line every time he reports to work, gets a salary increase of a tank a gas a month while Friends of Mike get $300-500 each month to drive from their homes to City Hall and several thousands more added to some of their already bloated paychecks? 

Or that a Kenner Firefighter is required to have a personal cell phone at his (and now, her) expense while Friends of Mike get $125-150 a month to pay for their cell phones? 

Or how about the fact that under Reynaud’s plan (which of course, would never have been approved by the voters); Yenni’s $35,000 RAISE would have been more than the annual salary of many Kenner Firefighters and street-level KPD Officers?

When our Kenner Firefighters are required to work two jobs to earn a living wage to provide for their families and have to purchase their own clothes (after the minimal allotment of uniforms that are provided to them), these proposed raises for Friends of Mike are obscene and Kenner residents should be ashamed of the way that this Mayor treats our first responders.

District 3 Councilman Reynaud, who proposed a $9,000 raise for himself and other District council members should also be ashamed. Besides the fact that you knew what the pay level was when you ran for office (as did Yenni), a part-time City Councilman with a staff cannot compare to a KFD or KPD employee.

This is yet another example of Reynaud's screwed up priorities since his ascension to the council. Let's weaken the Charter when it comes to borrowing money. Let's give ourselves massive raises and, of course, Mayor Yenni needs to get his too. 
How much is too much and when do we have a serious discussion about resetting our priorities?

I guess, in Kenner anyway, it really does pay to be a Friend of Mike, and that's sad. 

Considering that Mayor Yenni has repeatedly said “Public Safety is my #1 Priority”, yet the ranks of the KPD have held constant for the four years that he has been Mayor and KFD is suffering from low morale and being led by a Fire Chief who has told anyone who would listen that he’s just punching a clock and waiting for another pension, when is this Mayor going to put his words into action?

And, when are we going to start holding him accountable?