Saturday, July 19, 2014

After Borrowing Millions For His 2030 Plan, Kenner Mayor Yenni Wants To Shakedown District 1 Residents To Pay For Food Bank

It’s no surprise that I opposed Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s 2030 Plan to attempt to reinvent Kenner with $42 Million (plus another $17 Million in interest) in borrowed money. Sure Kenner could use a facelift but, borrowing Millions and tying up Sales Tax Revenue for decades without any research showing that the 2030 Plan will actually revitalize Kenner and provide real Economic Development was foolhardy in my opinion.

I was also vehemently opposed to Yenni taking on the largest debt in Kenner’s history without a vote of the people not to mention that some parts of Kenner, including some of Kenner’s neediest areas, would be virtually shut out of the 2030 Plan proceeds.

Case in point: Council District 1, where Kenner was founded.

When the 2030 Plan was announced, I called District 1 Councilman Gregory Carroll since there was little in the then $27 Million in new projects (which has since ballooned to $37 Million) for District 1. In fact, the largest line item at over $12 Million would be spent on Williams Blvd., which is a State Highway.

I told Councilman Carroll that I would help him organize a Bake Sale so we could purchase a sign to put at the corner of Williams and Airline Highway telling travelers from Armstrong Airport that “Rivertown Is This Way ------>”.

Unfortunately, while I was joking, that would be more than residents of District 1 would get under Yenni’s plan.

Last year, the East Jefferson Levee District announced that they wanted to consolidate operations in Kenner.

Great, right?  

Not if you’re a resident of South Kenner.

To accomplish the move, the EJLD wanted to buy some streets in South Kenner and limit access to historic cemeteries.

After a meeting at the Council Chambers that was filled with angry Kenner residents and a City Council meeting that brought some residents to tears and vague assurances that their homes wouldn’t be expropriated by the EJLD, a compromise was reached between the EJLD and Councilman Carroll – a few streets would be sold but access to the cemeteries would continue.

But, despite the apparent compromise, the Yenni Administration still issued a veiled threat to South Kenner residents:

The four-street compromise plan might look good for now. But the other three streets -- Warren, Alton Street and Fourth -- are not permanently off the docket, said Kenner City Planning Director Jay Hebert, who recommended approval of the sale of the other four streets: parts of George Street, Hollandey Street and Centanni Lane between the Mississippi River levee and Jefferson Highway, as well as a long stretch of Worth Street.

"The understanding is that someday down the road, they could meet to discuss those issues further," Hebert said.

Are some of those chickens now coming home to roost in another Yenni Shakedown of South Kenner residents?

“A Chevy or a Cadillac?”

If I told you that you could have a new Chevrolet or a new Cadillac, and it wouldn’t cost you anything, chances are that many of you would chose the Cadillac.

With all due respect to Chevy owners and Car Dealers, it’s human nature.

When my Grandfather sold the family restaurant and bar and retired, the first thing that he did was buy a new Cadillac. After working hard almost every day of his life, he deserved it. He was so proud the first time that he took me for a ride in it, he was almost bursting.

Now, Mike Yenni (in the form of his “bad cop” alter ego, Kenner CAO Mike Quigley), is making a similar offer to Kenner – do you want a “Chevy or a Cadillac” for your new Food Bank?

On the face of it, we all salivate and say “Cadillac, please”.

But, as with everything that Mike Yenni touches, things aren’t always what they seem and, like many transactions, you need to read the fine print.

After putting the proposal for a new Kenner Food Bank out for bid (remember that the EJLD is taking the land that the current Food Bank is on and demolishing the building), the lowest bidder was still much higher than the City expected.

In a letter obtained by, Quigley, while touting the $25 Million investment that the EJLD is making in Kenner (which, by the way, the City of Kenner will be receiving ZERO in property taxes – but let’s skip over that point for a moment), Quigley bemoans the economics of the new Food Bank:

“A look at the bids shows that all responsive bidders came in much higher than expected. Members of the Administration, together with the architect on the project, Meyer Engineers, came up with a number of deductions that lowered the bid contract amount to $550,965.”


$550,000 for a new Food Bank? And, the original low bid came in at $652,000!

Like the proverbial “As Seen On TV” huckster that he is in real life, Quigley says, “Wait – there’s more!”

In ‘STEP 2 – CHEVY OR CADILLAC?’ Quigley gives the City Council three options:

“You have a number of options: accept only the $652,000 base bid as is; accept the $652,000 base bid and approve change Order No. 1 (reducing the contract amount to $550,965), or accept the base bid (with or without change Order No. 1) and include up to three alternatives.”

Alternative No. 1 includes a loading dock, an additional driveway and an overhead door. This will add another $76,650 to the cost. For those playing at home, we’re either up to $627,615 or $728,650.

Alternative No. 2 includes additional concrete and the electrical services that are necessary to accommodate a refrigerated storage area outside of the Food Bank. This will add another $32,890 to the cost so, if we include Alternative No. 1, we’re up to $660,415 or $761,500.

Alternative No. 3 adds more parking. I mean, after all, the new Food Bank (with the addition of perishable goods in the new giant outdoor refrigerator) will serve more Kenner residents, right? The cost of more parking is only $36,330, so, added to Alternatives 1 and 2 we’re at $696,745 or $797,830.

$700,000 – 800,000 for a new Food Bank because the EJLD wants the land that the current Food Bank is on (but isn’t giving Kenner the money to build a new Food Bank).

And, that’s before the inevitable Change Orders (just look at The Jefferson Performing Arts Center’s budget – and it’s still not built).

Did I mention that the current Food Bank (which is in really bad shape) is only worth $84,000?

Now, to be fair, Alternative Nos. 1 and 2 are required if the City is to take advantage of a very generous offer from Crossroad Center for “regular tractor-trailer loads of food” per Quigley.

In addition, Quigley gushes, “That will ensure that the new Food Bank shelves will be fully stocked.”

Later in the letter, Quigley makes an even more audacious claim: “Because of the generosity of Crossroads Center, our new and larger Food Bank will be fully stocked with food – more so than ever in the past. The alternates will allow us to handle and distribute that food more efficiently, ultimately allowing the Kenner Food Bank to serve more members of our community.”

Quigley didn’t mention it but that also means ending the need for the phony Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts that were supposed to raise money for the Food Bank.

While I, for one, would certainly be happy to end the hypocrisy of Yenni’s Prayer Breakfasts, it might be cheaper to open a grocery store, stock it once a week, and give away the products inside.

“Everybody form a single line and the first 100 customers get to keep everything you can fit into a basket”.

So, if the money isn’t coming from the EJLD (which can’t, by law, contribute to something that only benefits the residents of one community, in this case, Kenner), where is the money coming from for a new Food Bank?

Ahh, here’s where it gets really interesting.

Quigley spells it all out in his letter.

By using old money from 2007 CDBG grants that were for land for the Annie Washington Center, taking money from the 2010 CDBG fund that was supposed to go to “Neighborhood Revitalization and Rental Housing Improvements”, and taking more money from the 2013 CDBG fund that was supposed to go to the “Regular Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program”, the City can come up with $179,122.

Now, mind you, most, if not all of this money was intended to go to low income Kenner residents anyway which are disproportionately in District 1 – meaning that District 1 residents were supposed to get this money anyway.

“But wait – there’s more!” Quigley says.

“Another source of funding would come from the sale of streets to the EJLD.”

Excuse me?

What about the compromise that the EJLD made with Councilman Carroll to not purchase more streets in 
South Kenner?

Why is the City of Kenner selling ANYTHING to a government entity that will provide no economic impact or property taxes to the City of Kenner, but use our roads and streets (the ones that they don’t purchase anyway) and cause more expense to Kenner taxpayers?

"But wait - there's more!"

After all of his financial machinations, Quigley miraculously finds a way to get the new Food Bank funded without any of the Millions hoarded by Yenni or any money from any other District.

“There are two other sources of revenue that could be applied to the Food Bank. One is the $91,000 received from the sale of Blair Street. The second is $180,000 from the proceeds of the sale of the Toy Train Museum. That brings the subtotal to $704,240 – just above the goal of $695,835, and just enough to pay for the Food Bank and all three alternates, after the cost savings from the proposed Change Order No. 1 are taken into account.”

And, without touching the 2030 Plan stockpile – imagine that?

The key takeaway here is that Quigley is spending money that could and should go to District 1 projects, on a Food Bank that will serve ALL of Kenner (and more of Kenner, by the way).

Shouldn’t money designated for District 1 go to projects that benefit District 1 and not a single project that benefits all of Kenner? Isn’t that what the 2030 Plan money should be for? The City just spent $512,000 renovating the Code Enforcement office and is spending another $1Million on some flower beds on Williams Blvd. leading into the Treasure Chest Casino but Mayor Yenni can’t find the money for a new Food Bank without shaking down the residents of South Kenner again and selling more of our city to a government entity that provides little economic benefit to the city?

District 1, like most of Kenner, has severe drainage and sewerage issues. The unemployment rate is higher than other Kenner Council Districts, yet Yenni is putting ZERO Dollars into creating new jobs in South Kenner or training the under and unemployed.

Rather than spend District 1 money on District 1, Yenni wants to shakedown District 1 residents for every Nickel. If you live in District 1, it’s not “Your Money” it’s “Yenni’s Money”.

Other District Councilmen get to spend their dedicated money on their Districts, often getting even more money from the At-Large Councilmen.

Yet, Yenni and Quigley believe that District 1 Councilman Carroll should just give the city a blank check and be happy that Kenner is getting a new Food Bank, whether it’s a Chevy, Cadillac, Hyundai, or Toyota. 

Residents in other Districts would never stand by and let Yenni scam them time and time again like he does to District 1 residents. From trying to close the Lincoln Manor Playground to blocking access to cemeteries housing their departed loved ones, and now using their money for a Food Bank that gives any deserving Kenner resident food.

I’d say that “I’m shocked” but I think you know my sarcasm by now.

Before someone writes in and tells me that I’m “bitter” or “cynical”, the truth is that I think it’s great that Kenner is getting a new Food Bank and, if we can afford it, a “Cadillac” Food Bank at that.

But it isn’t great that the burden for this “Cadillac” is being put squarely on the shoulders of District 1 residents when South Kenner badly needs every available dollar the City can spare and, while the need may be greater in District 1, the Food Bank serves all Kenner residents, not just South Kenner residents.

That being said, since the 2030 Plan budget has ballooned from $29 Million in new projects to $37 Million, and since the State and Federal Governments (along with the Regional Planning Commission) are paying for improvements on Williams Blvd., improvements that Yenni sold to the people of Kenner as a reason for taking on the largest debt in Kenner’s history, shouldn’t the City shoulder the cost of a ‘Kenner’ Food Bank?

The cynic in me says that this proposal by Yenni and Quigley is about 2 things: taking money from other projects that could benefit District 1 residents and more contracts for Yenni's campaign contributors (who, thanks to Yenni, are all driving Cadillacs and Mercedes and not Chevys by the way). 

But, I am smiling that now the proceeds from Yenni’s Prayer Breakfasts and Sippin’ With Santa can hopefully go to another worthy cause since the Food Bank will be stocked to the brim.

Perhaps a sign at the corner of Williams and Airline saying, “Rivertown Is This Way ------>”.

Well, it’s just a thought…

And, everyone knows how Mike Yenni loves my suggestions.

The Yenni/Quigley “Screw District 1 Residents Plan” will be voted on at Thursday’s Council Meeting.