Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Yenni Sewerage Department, Pt. 2: Usurping The Charter and The Will of The People

As I wrote previously, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni is seeking City Council approval to create another new department in Kenner City Government, the Department of Sewerage. If you missed it, here’s a link to that post.

Admittedly, it is within the Mayor’s power to add departments. However, before any City Department is added and services removed from a private sector company, the Mayor should make a clear and compelling argument to do so.

Before removing Veolia, the City’s current contractor, and creating a new in-house department, the Mayor should prove to the residents of Kenner and the City Council that the move benefits the people of Kenner.

Several steps should be undertaken BEFORE the Mayor made his proposal and, certainly, before the Council votes to approve it this Thursday.

1). The contract should be put out for bid and companies across the country solicited. That was a failure when Yenni renewed the contract with SMG to ‘manage’ the Pontchartrain Center. The RFP for the contract was only advertised in Metro New Orleans and only attracted SMG and a local bidder. I spoke with 4 national venue management corporations that had no idea the management contract was even available to be bid on. Clearly, expanding the amount of available bidders would have provided a better deal for the people of Kenner than Yenni’s “groundbreaking” deal with SMG that will still make city taxpayers over-subsidize SMG by $300-500k every year for the privilege of allowing SMG to book dog shows and gun and knife shows at Kenner’s Convention Center.

2). If no bidders can be found who will save city residents money, then the Mayor should begin the process of proving that moving the department in-house will either save residents money or provide vastly superior service.

3). Once the Mayor has made that case, if that case can even be made, then he should propose adding the department and begin the process of determining the scope of the department and the department director.

If it saves the people of Kenner money on their bills, they get better service, and bringing the department in-house saves tax dollars, great.

Unfortunately, none of that has been proven by Mayor Yenni.

As is usually the case, in his zeal, Yenni is skipping these important steps and leaving Kenner residents out in the lurch.

So much for transparency.

Usurping The Charter and The People
As I mentioned, the City Charter allows the Mayor to create any departments that he wishes.

However, hidden in the ordinance where Yenni proposes to create the Department of Sewerage, the Mayor also specifies information about the “Director of Sewerage”, a position that doesn’t exist and, since the Mayor hasn’t gone through the steps necessary to even prove that an in-house Department of Sewerage will benefit the people of Kenner, may be irrelevant.

Yet, Yenni puts the cart before the horse again but with an interesting twist.

In Section Three of the ordinance it states: That the Director of Sewerage shall be qualified by education, training and experience in the field of civil/environmental engineering and/or related administrative and/or management experience and training, and need not be a resident of the City of Kenner.

Oh yes, he/she DOES need to be a resident of Kenner, and the Yenni knows this.

Section 4.33 of the City Charter states: “Except as provided by specific hiring ordinance, applicable state law and this Charter, department heads or board members need not be residents of the City or the State at the time of their appointment but within six (6) months of their appointment, they shall become residents of the City and the State.”

Put simply, the Charter says that anyone can be made a Department Director/Manager but they must reside in Kenner within 6 months after they accept the job.

The only way around the residency requirement is to name someone the “Interim” Director, or remove the residency requirement via ordinance.

During Ed Muniz’s tour as Mayor, with Yenni by his side, he tried to strip the residency requirement from the Charter. The people of Kenner didn’t approve and voted to keep the residency requirement in place.

Yenni has repeatedly usurped the Charter and the will of the people of Kenner by naming “Interim” Directors (Mike Power is the Interim City Attorney and Chairman of Kenner's Charter Review Committee despite being a resident of River Ridge), a “Manager” of Emergency Services (although he is the head of the Emergency Management Department – again, Mayor Yenni is violating the Charter), and now, trying to include a section to void the residency requirement in the ordinance proposing to create the department.

The city's contract with Veolia expires in July 2015 so, clearly, there is time to put start the bidding process and make the case, if it needs to be made, that this move is better for Kenner.

The problem is, Yenni doesn't want that. He doesn't want to prove that this is in the best interest of Kenner residents - it's in his best interest and that's all that matters. 

Again, Yenni is proposing the creation of department that may or may not be needed yet he is already taking the step of voiding the Charter to bring in a political appointee.

Clearly, Yenni has made up his mind, has someone in mind to become the Director of Sewerage (who doesn’t reside in the City of Kenner), and is steamrolling this process through his “Consensus Team” on the Council before making the case that this move is in the best interest of the people of Kenner.

No Mayor should attempt to go against the will of the people and violate the Charter, and no Mayor should ever be given the power to do so by the City Council.

Regardless of political allegiances, the City Council was elected/appointed to represent the people of Kenner and uphold the City Charter, not allow a Mayor to walk all over it.