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.
"There is no reason why we can't have signs in both directions (onI-10)," DeFrancesch said to Fox8 in January of 2014.
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.