Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Yenni Continues Trying To Kill The Messengers – Even When He Appoints Them

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the continuing troubles at The Esplanade Mall and how Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s inactivity and lack of leadership were one of the reasons for the mall’s decline. I also wrote about how the President of The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council spoke at a recent Kenner City Council meeting and said that his group was making The Esplanade “a priority”.

While I applaud 17-year-old Arjun Verma for getting up and addressing the Council, something I wish more Kenner citizens would do, I was dismayed by some of his comments, especially his claim of “gangs” at the mall and his threat of “Social Media Terrorism” in attacking the mall’s owner, the Simon Property Group.

One thing that I will give to Mr. Verma though – he was certainly more articulate than many members of the Council he addressed.

Since Mayor Yenni wasn’t there, I won’t include him in that group (although I easily could).

At that meeting, despite Verma’s inflammatory and egregious comments, the Kenner City Council was gushing with praise after Verma spoke.

On Nola.com, Ben Myers also noted the Council’s praise and specifically noted Councilwoman-At-Large Mara DeFrancesch’s comments.

Several council members at that meeting praised the council's efforts and Verma's presentation. Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch said the ideas Verma presented were "very plausible," and that "many of them, if not all of them" can be implemented. None of the elected or administration officials at the meeting raised any qualms with Verma's statements. 

"Together we can really make things happen in Kenner," DeFrancesch said to Verma two weeks ago. 

Note the line, None of the elected or administration officials at the meeting raised any qualms with Verma's statements. 

At the most recent Council meeting however, the second consecutive meeting that Yenni hasn’t attended (strange but I didn’t hear of a new Mexican Buffet opening), it was an entirely different tune.

Several Council members, including DeFrancesch, along with Deputy CAO Nataile Newton, who supervises the Youth Advisory Council, criticized Verma’s statements.

And it wasn’t just Verma who was criticized by Newton.

Natalie Newton, the city's deputy chief administrative officer, accused the media of failing to verify Verma's statements before reporting them.

"What you heard was the opinion of a 17-year-old," Newton told the council. "Shame on the media for taking the opinion of a 17-year-old and procuring it as journalism."

Yes, but a 17-year-old whose group Newton supervises and who was speaking to the Council at the invitation of Mayor Yenni.

4). Correspondence, Reports From Mayor, CAO or Department Heads
4-A. At the request of the Mayor, a report from the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council.

So, the Mayor requested that Verma speak before the Council, and now his Deputy CAO is saying that we shouldn’t listen to him because “What you heard was the opinion of a 17-year-old”?

Who does she think is on "Mayor Yenni's Youth Advisory Council", adults?

Now, the plot thickens.

Since Verma was there “At the request of the Mayor”, and reporting on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, while he may have written his presentation and discussed it with his fellow Youth Advisory members, does anyone actually believe that his remarks were not approved by someone on the Mayor’s Staff, if not the Mayor himself?

If that is the case and his words were at least approved by someone in Yenni’s Administration, why are they doing their best to distance themselves from them?

And why didn’t the Council raise any questions immediately after Verma’s presentation?

Were they sleeping?

Obviously, something woke up the Council and Newton otherwise, why would they be so critical and why two weeks after when Verma wasn’t around?

What’s also ironic is a video that was shot by Ben Myers as he interviewed Verma outside the Council Chambers. In the video you will note a figure hovering behind the glass doors watching the interview intently.

It’s no surprise that the figure seen through the glass is none other than…wait for it…Natalie Newton.
So, nothing but gushing praise two weeks ago for the presentation that surely was approved by the Mayor or his staff beforehand; the group’s Supervisor lurking in the background trying to monitor an interview;  and, now the Councilwoman-At-Large, the Mayor and his staff are blaming the media for listening to the words of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council’s President and throwing the poor kid under the bus.

Did I mention that DeFrancesch was formerly the Councilwoman for the District that is home to The Esplanade and has presided over its demise?

And. since she has now changed her tune and is criticizing Verma for his ideas, what, pray tell, is DeFrancesch’s gamechanging idea for turning around The Esplanade.

Signs on I-10…yeah, that will fix everything.

Also last year, DeFrancesch was hyping a new Belk’s at the mall. In case you’ve not been to The Esplanade lately, the Belk’s is right next to the new Kohl’s DeFrancesch told us was coming – in 2010.

You may have forgotten Councilwoman, but I haven’t.

But, let’s get back to Mayor Yenni. I surely don’t want him to feel left out.

As is usually the case, whenever there’s bad news or things don’t quite turn out like he planned, Yenni’s first steps are to distance himself from the issue; try to kill the messenger; and, even better, have someone else do his dirty work (in this case, Newton) for him.

The problem is, if you’re paying attention, you’ve seen this story with Yenni far too often and its past time that he started being held accountable for his actions and inaction, especially when he’s not man enough to hold himself accountable.

A 17-year-old’s presentation didn’t cause the problems at The Esplanade and a 17-year-old’s ideas and actions won’t fix them either.

That’s for the adults to handle.

And, let’s face it, The Esplanade has a lot of problems from its location to the fact that somebody really screwed up putting the theater in the parking lot and not attaching it to the mall. Nothing like letting solid, daily foot traffic be squandered.

And, did someone mention "gangs"?

KPD Chief Glaser had the line of the night when he said that The Esplanade didn't have enough "gangs". Gangs of shoppers, that is. 

Who knew the Chief had a sense of humor? 

Sadly though, when your role models are Yenni and DeFrancesch (How is that Kohl’s coming along, Councilwoman?), it takes a 17-year-old to say that The Esplanade is, and should be, a priority.

It’s even sadder that, rather than making it a priority himself, Yenni would rather send out DeFrancesch and Newton to criticize those who want to improve Kenner and that a 17-year-old, even with some misplaced ideas, can show more leadership than Mayor Yenni.

The reason for Yenni’s lack of urgency and inaction regarding The Esplanade is simple – there’s no upside for him.

There are no lucrative contracts that he can give his friends like there are in his 2030 Plan. There’s no campaign contributors that he can shake down so he can increase his campaign account and buy more Mardi Gras Beads (yeah, when you’re out at the Driftwood Parade remember that all of those beads were paid for by campaign contributors who all wanted, and probably got, something in return for the money that paid for those beads).

No, if the mall fails, Yenni can simply blame the economy, the internet or Simon Property Group itself. After all, we know Simon has done a bang up job rebuilding The Esplanade.

If there’s nothing in it for him, you know Yenni isn’t going out of his way and besides, by the time The Esplanade really blows up, Yenni will be long gone and probably sitting in the Yenni Building (which I’m certain he believes is named for him – which is ironic since he needed a judge and a piece of paper to call himself that).

Yenni will simply leave the next Mayor to pick up the pieces of The Esplanade and figure out a way to pay for his 2030 Plan debt with the largest sales tax generator in Kenner collecting dust and continuing to not pay any property taxes.

Well, on the bright side, we do have a movie theater with stadium seating.

Friday, January 16, 2015

An Anniversary Of Sorts

Nowdays, people celebrate any anniversary and every “event”, even if it’s only an “event” to you.

While celebrating everything diminishes real milestones, I still agree with that strategy. We need to celebrate more. Life is too short and it passes us by far too quickly to not celebrate even minor events.

Along the way though, some seemingly minor events in life become major and, to be honest, some events in our lives we don’t want to remember or commemorate.

Three years ago today, January 16th, one of those infamous events occurred in my life. I don’t want to be overly dramatic and say that it “changed my life forever” or “nothing will ever be the same”, but, in this case anyway, both of those statements are true.

You see, January 16th 2012 will forever be indelibly etched in my brain: That is the day that I fell and hurt my leg. "Hurt" is an understatement because I almost died along the way.

It is difficult for someone like me who was always very healthy, to comprehend the amount of medical attention that I’ve received the last three years on my leg.

If someone would have told me three years ago that I would have spent about 90 days inside hospitals and received treatment in 6 different hospitals; undergone 16 operations; 80 hyperbaric sessions; received wound care treatments at least once a week and sometimes as many as five times a week for the past three years; months of physical therapy; and lost (and subsequently regained) 70 pounds, I would have said that they were crazy.

All due to something simple like a fall inside my house.

Of course, the fall was simple – the infections that followed were not so simple.

So, while I’m not really in the right frame of mind to celebrate my “anniversary”, I can look back at what happened three years ago, and at my near death experience, and celebrate the fact that God said that my time on Earth wasn’t done quite yet. I’m relatively certain that some people, particularly some elected officials, probably aren’t celebrating that point.

I can celebrate the incredible amount of prayers and good thoughts that were sent my way by friends, friends of friends, Facebook friends, and people that I’ll never have the pleasure of meeting or thanking in person.

I can celebrate the incredible support that I received from some great friends and my family. As much as people have said that I’m an inspiration to them, my friends and family have inspired me to keep fighting and keep going.

I can also celebrate the countless medical professionals who helped keep me here, the hours that they spent providing treatment, using their knowledge and skills and doing everything possible to help me improve. Even the surgeons who gave up on me and recommended amputation, more times than I can count, played a part in where I am now – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  

And, I can certainly celebrate that I didn’t die and that my leg is still attached.Yeah, I walk with a limp and I need to use a cane but, so what. It's still my leg and it's still attached. 

And besides, people have said that I walked funny my whole life. Now, at least, I have an excuse.

If I never fell three years ago, I probably never would have discovered how much I love “Storage Wars” or how inspirational Joel Osteen is.

If I didn’t fall, I probably wouldn’t know that I’m a Type 1 Diabetic and that I needed to change my eating habits (no more pastries for breakfast or candy bars for lunch) and I probably never would have learned how good Diet Mt. Dew is. 

If I didn't fall, I would never have gone through what I have to get here. 

I guess the fact is, even if an event is not a happy one, if you look, you can still find something to celebrate.

And we need to celebrate more.

It’s not a cliche – every day is a blessing.

Every day for me sure is.

Thanks for being a part of it and celebrating with me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Yenni’s Ineffective Leadership Proving Fatal To Esplanade Mall

In February of 1996, I moved to Louisiana. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the rampant political corruption and the allure of a seemingly never-ending supply of topics.

No, the political commentary came much, much later.

The reality is that I left sunny Tampa for the sugar cane fields of New Iberia because of a woman.

I know what you’re thinking…but we’re not going to go there now.

My reason for telling you this is to simply set up the backstory to this missive.

Sometime in 1997 or 1998 (I don’t recall the exact date), the woman in question was working for an Advertising Agency in Acadiana. A client of the agency was having a large piece printed by a Kenner printing company (which has since gone out of business). My girlfriend was asked to do a “press check” and check the quality of the first few that were printed before the whole job was printed.

Since it had been a couple of years since I was in New Orleans, and it was an overnight trip, I accompanied her.

Back then, I had been through Kenner but never really stopped. No reason to, honestly. And, if you would have told me then that I would be living in Kenner, I would have probably recommended that you be committed.

Anyway, while we were waiting for the printer, we visited The Esplanade.

It was really something.

Bustling shoppers, even on a work day. Not a vacant store front to be found. Unlike the Acadiana Mall, The Esplanade was 2 stories. It seemed huge.

I’m sure many Kennerites long for the vision that I described.

For the past several years, The Esplanade has been in a veritable freefall and, contrary to Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s rose-colored glasses, a detached movie theater (even with stadium seating) and the tax-free (at least to Kenner’s budget) Target aren’t turning The Esplanade around.

During last year’s Mayoral Campaign, I repeatedly pointed to the troubles at The Esplanade as an example of Yenni’s failed vision and his ineffective leadership.

How could the Mayor allow Kenner’s largest sales tax generator to wither away?

Yenni, as he is wont to do, continued to repeat one of his patented lies and deflect any responsibility for anything bad occuring in Kenner under his watch: “The mall is owned by a private business and city government can’t do anything about its problems.”

While I am at the forefront of the “small government” bandwagon, I thought Yenni was completely wrong about The Esplanade. Besides, if the only plan that you’ve come up with is giving away sales tax revenue to one of the largest retailers in the country, city government already has a significant stake in the fortunes of The Esplanade.

I believed then, and I continue to believe, that Kenner city government and the Mayor's Office could do a lot to help turnaround The Esplanade.

One of the biggest concerns that I heard and continue to hear from Kenner residents is that they don’t feel safe shopping at The Esplanade.

That can easily be fixed by locating a Kenner Police Department sub-station at the mall.

Perceptions quickly changed at Clearview Mall when a JPSO sub-station was located there and JPSO Deputies were extremely visible. The same action also helped at Oakwood Shopping Center.

I’m relatively certain that mall management would welcome an increased KPD presence at the mall, particularly during peak shopping periods.

While it’s true that city government can’t take over mall operations, the Mayor could actively recruit businesses to Kenner and spotlight The Esplanade. I made a list of stores that were located in other nearby malls like The Mall of Louisiana and didn’t have a presence in East Jefferson that could be targeted.

Who better than the Mayor to promote Kenner to national retailers looking to gain a foothold in Jefferson Parish?

Of course, Yenni would rather farm out Economic Development to JEDCO instead of taking on the task himself. JEDCO has assisted Lakeside Shopping Center with their expansion but has done little if anything for The Esplanade or Kenner, in my opinion.

There are other options for The Esplanade too that city government could assist with if Simon Properties, the mall’s owner, desired to remake The Esplanade.

If it’s true that malls are declining and there is little hope for The Esplanade to return to her former glory, why not repurpose a portion of the mall by recruiting a satellite campus of Delgado, UNO, Tulane or another college or university or charter a community college or trade school? That would generate thousands of students and the ensuing traffic would help expand The Esplanade’s food court, the theater and remaining mall shops, and nearby restaurants and other businesses.

Or you could repurpose a large, vacant area with an antiques mall or a collection of stores similar to Le Boulevard. This would allow local entrepreneurs to have access to sell their goods and take a stab at retailing without taking on the cost of mall rent and other expenses.

The City could also allocate some of its Hotel/Motel Tax  to marketing The Esplanade to shoppers in St. Charles and St. John Parishes who don’t want to fight the traffic and crowds at Lakeside. Kenner’s Hotel/Motel Tax is currently being shipped off to the Jefferson Convention & Visitor’s Bureau where Yenni’s political consultant receives his cut.

If Simon gets tired of fighting the battle to revive The Esplanade, perhaps it would consider selling the mall to local ownership. The city could assist in finding prospective buyers.

To be honest, Simon Properties is as responsible as anyone for the decline of The Esplanade. Simon has gone through at least 4 Mall Managers and Marketing Managers over the past few years.

The running joke is that The Esplanade is the mall where Simon sends its managers to die.

Maybe they are tired of The Esplanade. 

One can always hope, right?

These are just some rudimentary ways that Mayor Yenni and Kenner City Government could assist Simon Properties and The Esplanade.

The truth is that Yenni is completely detached from issues at The Esplanade.

Last year, when several stores announced they were leaving The Esplanade, Yenni was “blindsided”.

How can the Mayor of Kenner be “blindsided” by anything going on at the largest sales tax generator in the City?

Instead, Mayor Yenni has farmed out the city’s responsibility for The Esplanade (and, yes, I believe the City does have a responsibility and a role in The Esplanade’s future and its vitality) to a sub-committee of his hand-picked (and equally as ineffective as his own leadership and that of Simon Properties) Economic Development Committee.

Now, a new player has entered the arena and claimed the “The Esplanade is a priority”.

The new player is none other than another hand-picked committee by Yenni: The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council.

At the last Kenner City Council meeting, 17-year-old Arjun Verma called The Esplanade “pitiful” and said it’s a place where “shoppers simply don’t feel safe.”

Did you hear that Mayor Yenni? You could fix that with a KPD sub-station. That is, if you wanted to fix a problem for Kenner residents.

Ben Myers on Nola.com wrote the following:

Verma said his group wants to work with city officials and mall management to revive the Esplanade, where management last year consolidated tenants on the first floor. The first step, Verma said, is to increase security.

Why hasn’t Yenni done that during the past 5 years that he’s been Mayor?

"Recently there have been issues of gangs loitering in the mall and harassing shoppers," Verma told the council. "For the mall to actually change it needs to become a people friendly place again."

I agree that The Esplanade needs to be "people friendly" but gangs? Sorry, I don't see The Esplanade being a hub of gang activity with the Kenner versions of the Crips and the Bloods knocking over Senior Citizens on their way to their cars.

Look, it’s admirable that a group of 16-17 year-olds can see there’s a problem at the mall and attempt to affect change, but how exactly are they going to make The Esplanade their priority?

Are they going to:

1). Hold a bake sale or try again to get a cabbage ball tournament off the ground to generate funds for a marketing campaign?

2). Pledge to spend more of their allowances at the mall?

3). Start a petition drive to get a new American Apparel store at The Esplanade?

How about none of the above?

Verma said the youth advisory council would attempt to work with the new manager, when one is installed. If conditions don't improve, however, Verma said the council had resolved to start a social media campaign to create "noise."

"The hope is that this noise would somehow reach their investors, so we would be going over the corporation into the people that actually own the company," Verma told the council.

"Social Media Terrorism" - sounds a little ominous, doesn't it? 

The Simon Property Group has assets in excess of $26 Billion – that’s right – Billion with a “B”. The Esplanade is a blip on their balance sheet so it would take a huge amount of “noise” to reach the investors of a publicly-held, multi-national real estate company.

Sorry Arjun, but I think some of my ideas are a tad better than "Social Media Noise." 

It’s a longshot but at least the kid is thinking, right? He’s clearly showing more leadership than the man who appointed him to The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee. 

And, unlike Yenni and one of his strongest political allies, Councilwoman Maria DeFranchesch, Verma isn't promising to bring Kenner a Kohl's or other retailer as an election ploy.

Now, if young Mr. Verma can just get Kenner that American Apparel store, he’ll have my vote.

That is, if he stays around Kenner when he’s old enough to vote and run for office.