Wednesday, October 22, 2014

One Tent In Kenner’s “Political Circus” Comes Crashing Down



I know that it’s been awhile since my last post. I’d apologize but, I’m really not sorry. Needed to take some time away and decompress and, to be perfectly candid, Nola.com’s ‘Dynamic Duo’ of Adriane Quinlan and Ben Myers has done a great job writing about Kenner and Jefferson Parish.

That being said, it’s time to get back to work – not because they’re doing a bad job (because they aren’t) but I have missed writing. And, apparently, some of you have missed my commentaries too (unless you’ve just said things to flatter me and boost my self-esteem, which really doesn’t need boosting…).

In any event, the past few weeks I’ve been intrigued by the Civil Service hearing regarding the termination of Joey Metzler, a former City of Kenner employee in the Code Enforcement Department.

We first discussed Joey Metzler in September of 2013. At the time, many in Kenner were shocked that Mayor Yenni had approved private investigators following and reporting on the actions of several Code Enforcement employees, and Metzler in particular.

Some went so far as to claim that the following of Metzler was purposely intended to intimidate and attack his credibility as Metzler was alleged to have played a role in exposing money in the Code Enforcement Department and untruthfulness by another Code employee.

ClickJefferson.com and other news outlets reported the findings of the private investigators, there was a disciplinary hearing and no action was taken against Metzler.

Shortly after, there was a complaint lodged against Metzler for his driving. The City operates a “How’s my driving” telephone tip line. The complaint, from a school crossing guard, alleged that Metzler was carelessly driving.

The complaint was investigated and found to be without merit.

Flash forward to January of 2014 when new Code Enforcement Director Amy Vallot is hired and a new deputy, Rick Walther, is also in place.

Walther, a former police officer, undertakes another, albeit sloppy, investigation of the September 26th driving complaint against Metzler. On Vallot’s first day of employment, rather than spending time getting to know her new employees, she sits in on a meeting regarding the complaint against Metzler.

Now, for the record, I personally like Ms. Vallot and she’s always been kind and professional towards me. Ms. Vallot testified that she wanted to review the complaint against Metzler with a “fresh set of eyes”, and that is well within her purview as an incoming Director.


I have no malice towards her but, you have to admit that the timing is certainly curious and suspect.
During the Civil Service trial, Ms. Vallot testified that she received no undue influence or pressure from Mayor Yenni to fire Metzler.

In addition, Yenni tried to portray himself as a “hands-off” Administrator who doesn’t interfere in the mundane day-to-day operations of City Departments.


When I heard Mayor Yenni say that with a straight face, I could hardly contain my laughter and this was no mere ‘disciplinary act’ – it was the termination of a city employee. How could the Mayor not be briefed by a politically appointed Department Director prior to a termination?

Yenni’s statement was almost as laughable as the statement by Attorney Alvin Bordelon, who was representing the City in the Metzler Civil Service hearing, when he claimed that Metzler and Attorney Ron Wilson were trying to make the hearing into a “political circus”.

Yes, this is the same Alvin Bordelon who, despite the City of Kenner having several attorneys on staff, continues to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars for his “representation” of the city.

Why would the City of Kenner spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with an attorney whose office is in Metairie? I’m sure that it has absolutely nothing to do with political contributions.

Through the years, Bordelon has contributed thousands of dollars to Kenner politicians including Aaron Broussard, Louis Congemi, former Councilmen-At-Large Jeannie Black and Michele Branigan, current Councilmen-At-Large Keith Conley and Maria DeFranchesch, and, of course, Mike Yenni.

In fact, Conley and Yenni each received max $2,500 donations from Bordelon.

Talk about a good investment for Bordelon.

In any event, it is ironic that Bordelon decries the very same ‘political circus’ that he himself has been a part of, and benefited from, for years.

But, let’s go back to the hearing.  

During their testimony, both Vallot and Yenni claimed that honesty and integrity were paramount in Kenner city government. In another irony, in Metzler’s disciplinary hearing back in September, the city cited several violations of city policy including “truthfulness”.

Among the violations of city policy Ms. Shaw cites are the following:

6.1 Personal Conduct – “Employees shall conduct themselves at all times, both on and off the job, in a manner which will not cause adverse public criticism of the City Administration.”

6.2 Moral Conduct – “Employees shall maintain a level of high moral conduct that is in keeping with the highest standards of the community, and in accordance with the State and Federal laws.

6.6 Truthfulness – “Employees shall be truthful in his conduct towards all people.”

Yet, no disciplinary action was taken against the Code Enforcement employee who lied on her job application and didn’t divulge a prior felony conviction and no disciplinary action has yet been taken against Assistant Code Enforcement Director Rick Walther who lied on an affidavit that was filed with the Civil Service Hearing Board.

As noted earlier, former City Attorney and now Councilman-At-Large Keith Conley and Mayor Yenni approved the spending of over $8,000 for a private investigator to follow Code employees.

Ironically, despite the public knowledge and reporting of what was contained in the report that Yenni and Conley authorized, in Yenni’s own sworn testimony, he denied knowledge of what the private investigator’s report said.


Huh?

You allocate taxpayer dollars for the unusual request of following city employees and then you have no idea what the outcome was? 

Really?

Now, I will be the first to admit that I doubt that Mayor Yenni reads ClickJefferson.com (although I would suspect that he has had someone read it to him on occasion); I know he reads the Times-Picayune and spends thousands of campaign dollars framing every article that casts him in a positive light.

Nonetheless, Kenner is a small town and everyone who wanted to know what was in the private investigator’s report knew what was alleged. Of course, we (the Times-Picayune and myself) also needed to file Public Records Requests to learn how much money Yenni allotted for the private investigators.  For some reason, Mayor Yenni wouldn’t divulge that info without one of those Public Records Requests that he claims are such a burden on his legal department.

Of course, if honesty and integrity truly reigned from top-to-bottom in Kenner City Government there would be no need to have people followed and have multiple investigations over a driving complaint.

Yesterday afternoon, the Civil Service Board ruled in favor of Metzler and ordered his reinstatement 
with back pay (less any income that he has had in the interim). It’s also possible that the City will be responsible for Metzler’s attorney fees, which could add thousands more to the City’s tab.

“After considering the Appellant’s appeal, the testimony and evidence presented, as well as the entire hearing record, this Board concludes that the City has not borne its burden of proof and the disciplinary action was arbitrary and further, was undertaken without reasonable cause.”

The bottom line to all of this is that Yenni’s attempt at political retribution backfired and cost the city (us) thousands of dollars in back pay, attorney’s fees, private investigator’s fees, and time and all because an employee exposed wrongdoing that Yenni didn’t want to see the light of day.

What a waste.

But, that ends this particular “political circus” in Kenner.And, what a circus it was.

Now about Rick Walther’s affidavit…

Here are the links to Adriane Quinlan’s excellent reporting on Nola.com on this hearing:




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