Monday, February 16, 2015

The Kenner Way - When Criticized, Blame a Committee



You’ve got to hand it to Kenner District 3 Councilman Keith Reynaud. 

In the few short years since Reynaud has turned his back on the people who helped elect him and became Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s lapdog, Reynaud has learned one of Yenni’s favorite political tactics: when in doubt, deflect and blame a committee.

Reynaud, who was elected because he wasn’t Yenni’s candidate, and who couldn’t write a complete sentence let alone a law without significant help, is now the City Council President and pushing Yenni’s agenda and blaming another committee for his repeated political faux pas.

You will recall that when the tide was turning on Yenni’s plan to double property taxes, Yenni changed course and said he wasn’t proposing to double property taxes he was simply giving people the chance to vote on what kind of Kenner city government they wanted.

When he didn’t get the answer that he wanted, Yenni scowled that “there will be cuts that everyone will feel”.

We’re all still waiting with baited breath for those “real” cuts.

Yenni did propose some meaningless cuts and personnel shuffles. Of course,Yenni couldn’t make those cuts himself, so he formed a hand-picked Streamlining Budget Committee, led by one of his mentors, former assessor Lawrence Chehardy. The two have much in common including the fact that both held political office because of their names.

At least Chehardy didn’t have to change his name to win an election.

When Chehardy’s committee proposed closing Kenner playgrounds that serve primarily minority youths, Yenni could say, “Oh no, I didn’t want to close any playgrounds – it was the committee”.

When Yenni didn’t get his way with his foolish tax plan, he formed an Economic Development Committee - another committee hand-picked and filled with his political cronies and contributors.

Then Yenii did another end run around the people of Kenner and took on the largest debt in Kenner’s history, this time claiming that the Economic Development Committee determined that Kenner needed several projects to spur its growth.

Kenner had too many jobs they said. Its houses were too old. Young people didn’t want to live in Kenner.

When questioned about the projects in his 2030 Plan, Yenni could claim that all the projects came from the Economic Development Committee.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

But that’s Yenni’s pattern: rather than provide leadership, accept responsibility and be held accountable for his decisions, when there is the tiniest bit of criticism, Yenni ducks and runs for cover behind a committee.

Now Reynaud is doing the exact same thing.

At the last city Council meeting, the Council deferred several items related to Kenner’s Charter Review Committee - yet another committee made up of… wait for it…Yenni’s cronies.

The Council will discuss, and most likely approve, those items, at Thursday’s council meeting and seek to put them on the Spring ballot.

And what were these items that the Charter Review Committee proposed? Basically the same things that Reynaud proposed last year and were met with criticism, including a massive pay raise for Yenni, the Police Chief and the Council.

When a citizen asked about the pay raises specifically, Reynaud said, “They were proposed by the committee.”

Maybe the pressure of becoming Council President caused Councilman Reynaud to forget that he proposed the pay increases last year.

At that time, regarding the pay raise issue, Reynaud told Nola.com, "This is something that needs to be done, and I've been pushing to have it done for the two years I've served on the council."

When the same citizen asked if the election were “a Special Election”, rather than tell the whole truth Reynaud simply said it’s a “regularly scheduled election”. Of course Reynaud failed to mention that nothing in Kenner, and, possibly, Jefferson Parish, will be on the ballot except for the charter changes that the Council is specifically putting on this ballot in the hopes of low voter turnout.

But I guess that doesn’t qualify as a “special election”, right?

Reynaud also failed to note the thousands of dollars that the city of Kenner will have to pay for these items to be on the ballot, especially if there are no JP items on the ballot.

But, despite his pledge to change “politics as usual in Kenner”, Reynaud has jumped in the mud with both feet.

Enough about Reynaud; let’s talk about the Charter Review Committee.  

So, who are some of the players on Yenni’s Charter Review Committee? I’m glad you asked.

Chairman Mike Power - Power is Kenner’s Interim City Attorney, appointed by Yenni and appointed to this committee by his predecessor, Councilman-At-Large Keith Conley. Months after his appointment to Kenner City Government, Power is still “Interim” because he doesn’t reside in Kenner. Yet another of Yenni’s dodges around the will of the people of Kenner.

Why, pray tell is someone who doesn’t even live in the city of Kenner the Chairman of the Charter Review Committee? Because his only purpose is to push through Mike Yenni’s agenda.

Vice-Chairman Tony Ligi – Ligi, a former state legislator who quit during the middle of his second term to become a hired gun lobbyist, was appointed by Reynaud. What is ironic about that is the fact that Ligi vocally opposed Reynaud when Reynaud first ran for office. Ligi has long been a supporter of Yenni and in his position as Executive Director of the Jefferson Business Council, was a vocal proponent of Yenni’s 2030 Plan.

Debra Yenni – The Assistant City Attorney working under Power (and, formerly, Conley), she was appointed by the mayor (of course).

William Vanderbrook – A CPA who has provided campaign finance reports for several elected officials including former KPD Chief Steve Caraway, current KPD Chief Michael Glaser, Mike Yenni, and Councilmembers Mike Sigur, Lenny Cline and Dominick Impastato. He was appointed by Sigur.  Vanderbrook has also provided services to Ligi and current 24th JDC Judge Michael Mentz (who threw out my suit against Yenni’s 2030 Plan).

Debbie Villio – An attorney and former Jefferson Parish Code Enforcement Director, Villio is also a former Judicial candidate, Yenni’s appointee on the Code Advisory Committee, and a Yenni campaign contributor. She was appointed to this committee by KPD Chief Glaser.


\What’s truly interesting about this “Committee” is that they seem to be more concerned with the public’s perception of Reynaud’s raise proposal than they are about doing something meaningful for the people of Kenner.

At the January 28th meeting, both Ligi and Power raised concerns about only submitting the pay raise changes and the perception of only offering the raises on the ballot. There was also a discussion regarding when to put them on the ballot – the earlier the better before the citizens of Kenner can find out what’s going on and vote it down.

One Committee member even said that if the pay raises were on the October ballot, they would be soundly defeated.

Thus far, in addition to Reynaud’s pay raise change, after 6 meetings, the Charter Review Committee has proposed some other meaningless housekeeping changes that are similar to the ones proposed by Reynaud last year, without offering any substantial changes.

Except for hefty pay raises, of course, which were also proposed by Reynaud last year.

Can a case be made that the Mayor and Police Chief of Kenner are underpaid? Sure, particularly the Police Chief. In the same vein, a case could be made that other Mayors are grossly overpaid.

But, life isn’t fair.

In their analysis, the Committee repeatedly referenced the salaries of the top officials in Lake Charles, despite Yenni’s open disdain for comparing anything in Kenner to Lake Charles.

As to the Council, there is no possible way to justify a salary increase for them. It’s a part-time position that is paid more than what many full-time employees in Kenner earn. According to City-Data.com, in 2009, almost 30% of Kenner households had a total income of less than $30,000, and that’s household income, not individual income.

In any event, should the voters of Kenner approve these massive increases, any increase should be for the next council, Mayor and Police Chief, not the current ones.

Hey, I have an idea: instead of tying the salary of Kenner’s elected officials to what Judges make, why not tie them to Kenner’s population? We could pay the Mayor $1 per Kenner resident; the Police Chief, $1.25 per; the District Council members, $1per resident they represent; and the At-Large Council members, $.50 per resident.

Of course, my idea would never fly because every elected official, except the Police Chief and the At-Large Council members (who I would also propose be disbanded in favor of 7 District Council members), would get a pay cut.

Does Kenner need to review and amend its charter from time to time? Absolutely. But not by another hand-picked Yenni committee of rubber-stampers led by someone who doesn’t even live in Kenner and a guy who quit on the people who elected him.

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