Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Trust none of what you hear, and less of what you see.
-          Bruce Springsteen

I’m sure it breaks some “Writer’s Rule” to start a post with two quotes but, like Yogi Berra said,  in Kenner “it’s déjà vu all over again.”

10 days ago we wrote about more stores leaving the Esplanade Mall. District 4 Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch, who is term-limited and seeking a promotion to Councilman-At-Large, reached into her bag of tricks and pulled out a familiar card and promised more large retailers would soon be coming to Kenner.

“(Stores) like Belk’s and others,” DeFrancesch said.

Mayor Yenni and DeFrancesch had pulled a similar trick on voters during the election campaign in 2010 when they touted their hard work in bringing a Kohl’s Department Store to Kenner.

The Kohl’s never materialized and, after repeated questions from Kenner shoppers, DeFrancesch took the fall and admitted that a Kenner Kohl’s was not forthcoming due to “personnel changes” at Kohl’s.

In my post 10 days ago, I wrote that it was similarly unlikely that Belk’s would be coming to Kenner either.

Belk’s has one South Louisiana location in Covington. Their only other Louisiana locations are in Shreveport and Monroe. The Covington location sits adjacent to I-12 and near other Belk locations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, making distributions costs significantly less than shipping products and incurring significant marketing costs for a standalone Kenner location.”

Since that post, has confirmed that Kenner isn’t on Belk’s radar.

“Conceptual Drawings”

The graphics for the 2030 Plan show many things that WON’T happen in Kenner including underground power lines on Williams Blvd.

Many new subdivisions and emerging cities boast of underground power lines.

For an existing, older city like Kenner, the cost of underground power lines is cost prohibitive.

But that didn’t stop Mayor Yenni from trying to get the people of Kenner to buy into his flawed “vision”.

Of course, when the work is done on the 2030 Plan, Mayor Yenni will be long gone. He won’t need to face the fallout from Kenner taxpayers who are paying for his 2030 Plan until, well, 2033 to be exact and were sold a bill of goods with pretty “concept drawings” that don’t reflect reality.

And Yenni's campaign contributors will have raked in Millions. 

Not content to stop with fudging about retailers, at yesterday’s “State of the City Address”, which every year was held in November but this year was changed to January to generate some buzz about Mayor Yenni’s 2030 Plan before qualifying for the Spring election occurs in 3 weeks, the Mayor told another huge whopper.

Mixed in with several smaller lies about Mayor Yenni’s successes (cutting 135 “government jobs” when the bulk of that was tour guides at Rivertown museums; “strategic savings by eliminating or significantly reducing subsidies to the Pontchartrain Center – yet to be seen, and by using JEDCO for economic development and the Jefferson Convention & Visitor’s Bureau for tourism when both are receiving the same funding), was more “concept drawings” for Laketown.

Here's a link to the Mayor's slide show. See how many lies you can count. 

Laketown which, with the exception of Coconut Beach Volleyball, has languished during Yenni’s almost 8 years at the top of Kenner City Government, is finally a point of emphasis for the Mayor.

Yenni envisions breaking ground in 2016 on an “entertainment district” in Laketown.

“Yenni also touted a Laketown boardwalk. Behind his lecturn, he showed the luncheon audience an architectural rendering of what could be built there: proposed broad plazas, an amusement area sporting a Ferris wheel and lake-view cafes stippled with umbrellas. He said in an interview that his administration has finished drafting a request that developers propose specific improvements.

"We want a hotel. We're looking for condos. We're looking for high-end restaurants," Yenni said. He compared the proposed development to Beau Rivage, which sits on the Gulf of Mexico at Biloxi, Miss., or to Fisherman's Wharf, which peeks over San Francisco Bay.”

“City officials are in discussions with Boyd Gaming, which owns the Treasure Chest, to determine how the lake-based casino would fit into the larger plan. The city has also crafted a request for proposals to seek developers interested in building the project.”

According to The Advocate, Yenni also compared his vision of Laketown to L’Auberge du Lac in Lake Charles.

The only problem is, Beau Rivage and L’Auberge du Lac are owned by competitors of Boyd Gaming and the Treasure Chest’s owner might not take kindly to a Mayor promoting other properties and comparing them to Kenner’s only casino.

In addition, the Beau is land-based and L’Auberge had plenty of land to expand, neither of which the Treasure Chest can claim.

The “conceptual drawings” for Yenni’s Laketown “vision” also included a giant Ferris Wheel.

A giant Ferris Wheel? 

Perhaps we can also get a rollercoaster from Jazzland. It might be a little rusty but, city workers are good at rehabbing old relics although normally from Jefferson Parish and not Orleans.

“I’d love to see that concept become a reality,” Yenni said.

We all would Mayor Yenni. We all would.

The problem is, it’s just a fancy drawing that is fake as were the drawings in your 2030 Plan.

From my April 11th 2013 post:

“One of the biggest revelations was the fact that, in Mayor Yenni’s package and on his video presentation for the projects, Mayor Yenni used “doctored photographs” that are not realistic portrayals of what the actual intersections will look like.

In the Mayor’s video presentation, Williams Blvd. is shown to have 8 driving lanes (4 lanes North and South), a median, a turning lane and bike paths along both sides of the street. It is portrayed to have underground power lines and other amenities that the City of Kenner has no funding for.

“I want to be for this project, I really do,” Kenner resident Stacey Allesandro said, “But it is not right to show ‘Photoshoped’ pictures and say ‘This is how it will look’ when it won’t look like that at all.”
Mayor Yenni replied that these are “conceptual drawings”. The City’s Landscape Architect Greg Cantrell added that “Some of these things we might not have money for and we may need to move money from one project to another.”

So, instead of letting the Public decide on the projects that they want and getting their input from the beginning, the Mayor is asking the people to pay a bill for the next 20 years based upon “concepts” and, it is conceivable that, this money can be moved to other projects that the people of Kenner don’t want and aren’t even aware of.”

And, the groundbreaking for anything in Laketown won’t occur until 2016. I guess Mayor Yenni hopes that “conceptual drawings” that are subject to change are enough to persuade Kenner voters to re-elect him.

I wonder what role the lead sponsor of yesterday's "State of the City Address", Greg Buisson of Buisson Creative Strategies  Mayor Yenni's political campaign manager and the man who handles advertising for the Jefferson Convention & Visitor's Bureau, will have in Laketown? 

Like I said, stop me if you've heard this one before...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

As Another High-Ranking Kenner Official Abruptly Resigns, Yet Another JP Retread Assumes His Position

The exodus of high-ranking City of Kenner employees coupled with the selection of former Jefferson Parish employees with ties to Aaron Broussard continues.

The latest to announce their departure is Kenner City Attorney Keith Conley. Conley, a holdover from the Muniz Administration was also significant campaign donor to Mike Yenni’s 2010 election.

Sources were unclear about Conley’s last day but they say that, despite rumors to the contrary, there was no personal falling out between Conley and Yenni. In fact, the two had lunch today (Thursday) after the press conference announcing the design of proposed new terminal at Armstrong International Airport.

Conley had been rumored to be interested in the position of Kenner Police Chief, a rumor that he did not deny when asked several months back. Those rumors have died down and sources claim that is not the reason for Conley’s abrupt resignation.

Conley is a former JPSO Deputy and while serving as City Attorney has also maintained an association with the Brandner Law Firm headed by Michael Brandner. Brandner was also a campaign contributor to Yenni and was appointed to several committees by Yenni.

Qualifying for the Spring Kenner Elections begins on February 12th.

Recently, in addition to serving as City Attorney, Conley also served as the Interim Code Enforcement Director after Tamithia Shaw also resigned suddenly. Ironically, Ms. Shaw's replacement, Amy Vallot, just took over about a week ago.

The Kenner Code Enforcement Department has been under increased scrutiny after allegations surfaced of missing money and the City’s hiring of private investigators to provide surveillance of some Code employees. Conley approved the surveillance.

On an interim basis, Mayor Yenni has hired former Jefferson Parish Deputy Parish Attorney Louis Gruntz.
Gruntz retired from JP in 2011 after serving for 20 years and 7 Parish Presidents, including one of Mayor Yenni’s mentors, Aaron Broussard.

While employed as Deputy Parish Attorney Gruntz saw his supervisor, Tom Wilkinson, along with former CAO Tim Whitmer and Broussard resign in disgrace.

During his retirement, Gruntz served as Chairman of the Jefferson Parish Charter Review Committee, a committee which did little in the way of adding any meaningful changes to the charter or reforms.

In addition to Shaw and Conley, in August 2012, Pratt Reddy resigned abruptly as Kenner’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for PublicWorks. Reddy was replaced by Public Works Director Jose Gonzales, himself a former longtime Jefferson Parish employee and Interim Parish President for about 7 days after Broussard resigned in 2010.

Yenni will introduce Gruntz at the next Kenner City Council meeting on February 6th.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

More Stores Leaving Esplanade Mall; Mayor Yenni, Councilwoman DeFrancesch “Blindsided”

Two stores, Ann Taylor Loft and The Gap, have announced plans to close up shop at Kenner’s Esplanade Mall at the end of January. A third store, Hollister, is also rumored to be on the way out.

In a Fox 8 piece, Nancy Parker described Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni and District 4 Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch as being “blindsided” by the moves.

“I have been fighting relentlessly for this mall,” DeFrancesch said. “Had we been notified by the mall, I would immediately have contacted people from these two stores to see whatever we do to give the mall a chance.”

Both Mayor Yenni and Councilman DeFrancesch blamed low foot traffic and visibility at the mall and pointed to the new theater as a sign of the mall’s revitalization.

“Foot traffic is an issue there,” Yenni said.

“(The stores should) wait a couple of months; give it a chance; see what difference – how much greater the foot traffic will be in the mall (due to the theater),” DeFrancesch said. 

"There is no reason why we can't have signs in both directions (on I-10)," DeFrancesch said.

Yeah, a sign on I-10 should do the trick. That would be the answer to all of the Esplanade's problems. 

What Yenni and DeFrancesch don’t realize, since neither one has ever owned a business before (sorry Councilwoman, Section 8 housing rentals don’t qualify as a “business”), is that business owners and managers study trends and do an enormous amount of research before making decisions, especially decisions to close a business.

Many retailers generate 50-60% of their annual profits from the Christmas shopping season. This money allows them to afford to wait out the slow 1st Quarter when consumers cut back on their spending to pay down their debt from Christmas shopping.

Obviously, Ann Taylor and The Gap studied the trends and determined that they weren't able to generate enough revenue from the Esplanade locations to continue operating at a loss for the other 9 months of the year. 

For major retailers like Ann Taylor and The Gap to break their leases and give up on the mall is a disturbing sign for the mall and Kenner, and continues a trend at the venerable Esplanade Mall which was once the crown jewel of Jefferson Parish mall but has long since been passed by Lakeside Shopping Center and, now, the truly revitalized Oakwood Shopping Center on the West Bank.

Kenner residents have long complained about declining standards in the Esplanade Mall, empty stores, a disappointing food court, and an emphasis on too many teen-oriented stores.

Over the past several years, Simon Properties, the Esplanade’s owner, has gone through several mall managers and marketing directors, each with limited success.

As she has done in the past, Councilwoman DeFrancesch conveniently name dropped potential new retailers.

“(Stores) like Belk’s and others,” DeFrancesch said.

When the last Kenner elections occured, Mayor Yenni and Councilwoman DeFrancesch teased Kenner residents with the promise of another major retailer, Kohl’s, coming to Kenner.

After the election, a Kohl’s spokesperson denied ever seriously considering opening a Kenner location.

While having a Belk’s location in Esplanade Mall or anywhere in Kenner’s many vacant shopping centers would be great, the prospects of getting a Belk’s is equally remote.

Belk’s has one South Louisiana location in Covington. Their only other Louisiana locations are in Shreveport and Monroe. The Covington location sits adjacent to I-12 and near other Belk locations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, making distributions costs significantly less than shipping products and incurring significant marketing costs for a standalone Kenner location.

In addition, the idea that Belk’s would bypass booming retail areas like The Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, Lakeside or even Oakwood to settle in Kenner is equally dubious.

However, I imagine that like Councilwoman DeFrancesch, Kenner residents can dream.

I wonder if Yenni and DeFrancesch are working out a package deal to have Kohl’s AND Belk’s fill the empty Esplanade stores.

After all, the next Kenner election is right around the corner.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Do We Really Need 40,000 New Laws?

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
- Edmund Burke, 1780

Fox News is estimating that, on January 1st, 40,000 new laws took effect.

As you probably already know if you read this blog even semi-regularly, I am a firm believer in less government. In fact, nothing would make me happier than if government provided the basic services and got out of my (and your) way.

Even with 40,000 new laws, I do think that there should be 1 more new law. My new law would mandate that, for any government body that imposes a new law, they should also repeal at least 10 laws.

Now, if they want to repeal more than 10, I’m perfectly fine with that but they must repeal at least 10.

Then, and only then, would we see how many of these new laws are absolutely necessary to the future of the proposing governing body.

If you have 10,000 regulations, you destroy all respect for the law.
- Winston Churchill

Of the 40,000 new laws, here are some of my favorites:

…In Colorado, 16-year-olds are now able to pre-register to vote. Of course, they can’t really vote until they’re 18.

…In Oregon, new mothers can now leave the hospital and take their placenta home with them. Some scientists say that ingesting the placenta has health benefits. Who knew?

…In Illinois and Texas, don’t think about using a tanning salon is you’re under 18. No word on if those states also ban spray- on tans for under 18-year-olds.

…Also in Illinois, police officers must now undergo training on the psychological and physiological effects of stun guns. Don’t tase me, man – unless, of course, you’ve had a class.

…In Illinois, police must now get a warrant to use a drone for surveillance. Personally, since I’m firmly convinced that is secretly in cahoots with the NSA, I think we need this law everywhere.

…Illinois also prohibits drones from interfering with hunters or fisherman. It seems that PETA wanted to use drones to monitor hunters. If PETA ever tried that in Louisiana there would be a lot of dogs coming back to their masters with drones in their mouths.

…In Delaware, it is now illegal to sell, distribute or possess Shark Fins. So much for the new Food TV network show, “Iron Chef Delaware”.

…Oregon has now banned “horse-tripping”.

…Oregon also increased the minimum wage by $.15 to $9.10 an hour. So much for income equality.  The increase amounts to $6 per week or about a McDonald’s medium Quarter-Pounder Meal.

…Trying to keep pace with their neighbor to the North, California also increased the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour (and going up to $10 per hour in 2016!).

…Oregon also banned smoking in cars if there are children present. If you put your kids in the trunk, you are still free to light up.

…And speaking of “lighting up”, marijuana is now legal in Colorado. No word on if former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu is requesting a trade from the Arizona Cardinals to the Denver Broncos.

Where you find the laws most numerous, there you will also find the greatest injustice.
- Arcesilaus

With 40,000 new laws, under my rule that would mean the repeal of at least 400,000 old laws.

I'd say that would be a pretty good start.