Friday, January 29, 2016

LA Supreme Court Gives Kenner Firefighters Big Win

Although he is now Parish President, the fiscal mismanagement, poor decisions and ineptitude of Mike Yenni continue to plague Kenner.

As noted here on several occasions, the Kenner Fire Department has rapidly declined since Yenni became CAO and subsequently Mayor.

Morale at the KFD has fallen off a cliff. Equipment and buildings are in disrepair and would require Millions of dollars in capital spending to stem the erosion. Equipment is shuttled from truck to truck. The Rescue Squad is often not in service. Personnel count is down and Kenner isn’t close to achieving the national standard of four-men-on-a-truck that would allow the KFD to send one fully equipped truck to a small fire and save the wear and tear on a second truck. At the last rating, the KFD barely hung on to a Class II fire rating and only after utilizing deceptive tactics and moving equipment around.

The hard-working members of the KFD often need to work 2 and 3 jobs to feed their families. Some are on public assistance.

The situation has been allowed to erode and fester under Yenni’s stewardship and the KFD Chief, John Hellmers.

Yes, I know that the Yenni Administration has thrown a few bones to the KFD.

In 2013, after much debate, the City Council approved the purchase of two new fire trucks with money from the Pontchartrain Center’s Katrina insurance settlement. Of course, it is forgotten that the money to pay for the PC’s repairs was frontloaded by money held for KFD capital improvements. Even with the new trucks, the KFD did not recoup the money owed them thanks to Yenni’s financial schemes.

And yes, the Council did approve, at Yenni’s urging, the budgeting of $750k for a new ladder truck from the BP settlement. As we wrote earlier, the budgeted money isn’t enough to pay for the ladder truck, it’s at least $150k short.

Kinda reminds me of the insurance commercial that asks if you want to drive a car with three wheels – maybe Kenner will get a ladder truck with ½ a ladder.

So, yes, a few bones for KFD.

But, not nearly enough.

Now, even the state Supreme Court agrees with me.

In 2010, KFD firefighters were forced to sue the City after Yenni refused to pay the firefighters full pension amounts dating back to 1999.

Beginning in 1999, when it merged the firefighters municipal pension with the statewide pension system, Kenner failed to include payment for seniority, continuing education, fill-in (when a Firefighter assumes a higher position due to a senior member not being on duty) and holiday pay remitting pension funds based upon salary alone.

After the lawsuit was filed, Yenni began adding holiday and fill-in pay to the pension mix but refused to include other pay categories or make the payments retroactive to 1999.

Instead, Yenni in his typical stubborn fashion, chose to fight the firefighter’s lawsuit costing the city hundreds of thousands in legal fees and interest.

The Advocate cites a figure of $832,000 owed back to 2007, not including legal fees, court costs and interest. 

According to sources, the $832k is a "starting point". 

Some estimate the city could owe $3 Million or even as much as $8 Million when everything is calculated. 

Even $1 owed to KFD current and past firefighters is shameful but $3 - 8 Million is reprehensible. 

Thanks Mike. 

Kenner taxpayers are so thankful that you and your "Consensus Team" on the City Council have burned through money like a holiday bonfire. 

Well, the state Supreme Court has ended the charade and ordered the city to pay what it owes to the firefighters.

It should never have gone this far.

Firefighters potentially put their lives on line daily protecting our homes, businesses, properties and lives. They shouldn’t be compelled to sue a city to get what is owed to them.

In addition to the poor morale and the rift that the lawsuit caused, Yenni’s mishandling of this situation could potentially cost Kenner several million dollars plus the legal fees and court costs involved in contesting the suit.

Of course, the firefighters will most likely settle the lawsuit for less than the millions they are owed.

They will get a few bones thrown their way again.

This isn’t the first time that the Yenni Administration and Chief Hellmers have shortchanged Kenner firefighters.

In 2013, we wrote about 33-year KFD veteran Randy Guilmino. Upon his retirement, Guilmino was shafted by Hellmers and was paid less then he was owed in Seniority Pay.

Guilmino claimed he was owed $688.

Hellmers authorized paying him $28.

And that is just one example.

Yes, this is the same John Hellmers who misappropriated funds and paid himself for educational certificates that he didn’t have, then fileda lawsuit after the Civil Service Board said that Hellmers must reimburse the city. 

Not surprisingly, Hellmers lost. 

Sadly, for Kenner residents and firefighters anyway, Yenni didn’t take Hellmers to JP with him.

Regardless of whether the firefighters settle or hold out for the full amount, the question comes back to – why would Yenni let it get this far?

And, why would he push to burn through Millions of dollars for his vaunted 2030 Plan and in BP settlement money instead of doing what is right and taking care of Kenner firefighters?

Why didn’t Yenni think the hardworking members of the KFD deserved at least what they were owed? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Multiple Ethics Complaints Alleged Against Mike Yenni

The State Ethics Board has received a complaint alleging that Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni, during his time as Kenner Mayor, violated several campaign finance and ethics rules including paying for non-campaign related travel through his campaign account and then seeking reimbursement from the City of Kenner and pocketing the money personally; accepting trips paid for by City vendors; writing a $550 check from his campaign to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School as a “donation” and receiving $400 in cash back from a school volunteer; and receiving improper discounts and waiver of late fees from Big Easy Storage where Yenni stored his campaign material.

The complaint alleges that in January 2014, Yenni took a trip to Washington, DC to meet with FEMA officials. He paid for the air travel ($1,008.00) through his campaign account and later submitted a bill to to the City of Kenner for reimbursement. A check was then cut to Yenni personally. Yenni pocketed the funds rather than remitting it to his campaign account.

Curiously, Yenni has long stated that he removed the travel stipend from the Mayoral Budget, yet sought reimbursement for travel anyway.

The complaint also discusses a May 2013 trip to New York City taken by Yenni with several members of the firm Linfield, Hunter & Junius (a Yenni campaign contributor and project manager of Yenni’s 2030 Plan) and City of Kenner employees including Finance Director Duke McConnell, then City Attorney Keith Conley (now Yenni’s  Chief Operating Officer at Jefferson Parish), and Deputy CAO for Public Works Jose Gonzalez.

The purpose of the trip was allegedly to meet with Bond Companies regarding the debt incurred in Yenni’s 2030 Plan. According to Mayor Yenni’s personal calendar for May 06, 2013, the group also included a “9/11 Memorial Trip” during the visit. 

The NY trip occurred several months before Linfield, Hunter & Junius was awarded the $2.1 Million no-bid contract as 2030 Project Manager and before the City even sent out the request for a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) for vendors seeking to be the Project Manager. 

The complaint alleges that most, if not all, of the expenses related to the trip were paid for by City Contractors. 

So, weeks before the City sends out the Project Manager SOQ, Mike Yenni along with several City executives just happen to take a trip with the company that was ultimately awarded the Project Manager contract. 


La. R.S. 42:1115A(1) prohibits a public servant from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirectly, anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or from any officer, director or agent, or employee of such person, if such public servant knows or reasonably should know that such person has or is seeking to have a contractual, business or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency.

The complaint also alleges that Yenni violated La. R.S. 18:1505.21(1) (Personal use of campaign funds) when he wrote a campaign check to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School for $550. According to reports, Yenni claimed that the check was supposed to be for $150 and not $550. A school volunteer gave Yenni $400 in cash.

A separate complaint was filed regarding Big Easy Self Storage alleging that while the storage space was locally owned, Yenni received a monthly discount and waiver of late charges that was not customarily available to the general public.

La. R.S. 42:1111A prohibits a public servant from receiving anything of economic value other than compensation and benefits from the governmental entity to which he is duly entitled, for the performance and responsibilities of his office or position.

When a complaint is filed, the Ethics Board conducts an investigation into each of these allegations. If found guilty, Yenni could face a fine of up to ten thousand dollars plus restitution.   

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Kenner Spending $150,000 To Design “$1.5 Million Shed”

Yes, unfortunately you read that correctly.

In yet another example of the largesse that has defined the Mike Yenni era in Kenner, the City Council approved spending $150,000 from the BP settlement to design a building that will house generators that are only used during emergencies.

Characterized by District 1 Councilman Gregory Carroll as a “$1.5 Million Dollar shed”, the building will be yet another in a long line of political payoffs to Yenni campaign contributors.

And, in typical Yenni fashion, the $150k design contract to Meyer Engineers was a no-bid contract and the $1.5 Million for the actual building is not in the budget.

Yes, despite Yenni's ascension to Parish President, his grubby fingerprints are all over this one. 

Meyer Engineers and its President, Richard Meyer, have donated almost $10k to Yenni’s campaigns.

Now, although it might be humorous to watch her almost blow a gasket, before Kenner’s resident Slumlord-In-Chief Maria DeFrancesch has a hissy fit and wants to lecture me again about an arcane, obsolete Federal law that doesn’t apply to municipalities, there is nothing illegal about a no-bid engineering contract.

Sorry, I wish there was.

But c’mon - $150,000 to design a shed?


Even District 3 Councilman Keith Reynaud took issue with that one.

While some (myself included) question the need for a building to house emergency generators that costs twice what Kenner’s new Food Bank cost (and that was overpriced too), any sane person should question spending $150k simply to design anything, let alone a shed.

Yes, as pointed out by the Slumlord-In-Chief, the generators aren’t home generators and do cost upwards of $50k each.

And, yes, they may last longer if they are kept out of the elements and that may save the city some money in the long run.

But, beside the fact that these are outdoor-use generators to begin with, covering their trailers with a tarp would also keep them out of the elements and cost a lot less than $150,000 to design and $1.5 Million to build the “Taj Mahal of Sheds”.

Sounds more like a White Elephant Political Payoff to me.

If you’re keeping score at home, the Kenner Council approved the contract 4-2 with Carroll and Reynaud opposed and Mike Sigur (as Acting Mayor) not voting.  In his first meeting as appointed Councilman-At-Large, Brian Brennan showed that he fits right in on the Consensus Team voting with the majority to waste more Kenner money.  

Considering that Brennan was rejected by his own neighbors in his bid for a District Council seat, it was mystifying to me that he be appointed to a Citywide position. But that's another post. 

Look, if Kenner was awash in money and had no pressing needs I would still be against building a $1.5 Million shed.

But, when we’re not in a stable financial situation and there are needs everywhere you look due to the mismanagement of Yenni, I need to cry  “Foul”.

Look at the Kenner Fire Department.

The City Council budgeted $750,000, also from the BP settlement, for a new Fire Department ladder truck  which will cost more than $900,000 (could have used the $150k there right? But no political payoff for a Friend of Mike). The City is also facing a potential Multi Million court judgement to pay our Firefighters back pay and pension money owed them for years.  The KFD, under Chief John Hellmers has no hope of achieving the national standard of 4-men-on-a-truck and the Rescue Truck is out of service due to a lack of manpower, clearly Kenner has bigger priorities within its Fire Department alone than yet another no-bid political payoff to Mike Yenni campaign contributor.

So much for Public Safety in Kenner.

I know…you’re probably sick of me talking about the needs of the Kenner Fire Department.

Sorry but, someone needs to.

The bottom line is – Public Safety should come first, then Quality of Life. Way down on the list, my list anyway, is spending $150,000 to design a $1.5 Million shed to house outdoor generators.

Let’s shift back to revenue for a second.

When Kenner has more debt than ever before and is facing declining sales tax revenue from a dying, if not already dead, Esplanade Mall, shouldn’t our elected officials have been more prudent than blowing through the BP settlement money as quickly as they did?

And, even after the $150,000 for the design of the shed is deposited into Meyer Engineers’ bank account, the City still has to find the money to pay $1.5 Million for the building  - if not more – since it hasn’t been designed yet, how can we know how much it will cost when it comes time to actually build it?

Wonder which Friend of Mike will get that contract and where the money will come from?

Stay tuned.

In Kenner, there’s always something to write about.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Mystery Surrounding Kriss Fairbairn’s Abrupt JP Gov Departure Solved

Ok, it’s confession time: I’m a TV news junkie.

Although it’s been years since I was involved in the day-to-day operations of a TV Station, I still love TV news – particularly local TV news.

When I travel, I take a special interest in Local TV news, anchors, reporters, styles. I don’t really care about the content as much (since I don’t live there) as I am with the style of the newscast.

In New Orleans, each of the 4 network affiliates has their own particular news style and that’s great – if you’re like me (although that is not very likely).

My second confession today is that I always liked Kriss Fairbairn when she was on WDSU.

Kriss had an easy, comfortable style of anchoring. She was a consummate professional on-air.

While we don’t socialize or travel in the same circles, I respected Kriss. She did a great job; was entrenched in New Orleans; and had a great, upstanding husband, JPSO Col. John Fortunato (although he does work for one of the biggest asses in JP – Sheriff Newell Normand – I won’t hold that against him).

I was disappointed when Kriss left WDSU but glad that she later accepted a position with John Young as JP’s Public Information Officer.

Kriss was widely respected within JP Government and she brought a skillset to the PIO position that JP had not seen.

Even though, in December, Yenni publicly stated that Fairbairn was staying in JP government, I was a bit surprised when I heard that but it made sense – Young lost his bid to become Lt. Governor.

Didn’t know how long Kriss would last before she became completely frustrated working with someone like Yenni who can’t spell the word ‘integrity’ let alone define it.

So, it was curious and unexpected when The Advocate reported that Kriss would be leaving the Yenni Adminstration almost before it started to join incoming Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser’s staff.

Yenni was sworn in last Wednesday and Fairbairn resigned on Friday.

According to The Advocate, Fairbairn said, “I was looking forward to working with Mike Yenni when this opportunity came along, and I am excited about taking my public service to the next level and serving the citizens of this state.”

Sounds plausible right?

But, is that the whole story?

As I’ve told you repeatedly, with Mike Yenni, nothing is ever what it seems.

And, if Yenni is involved, the nefarious Greg Buisson cannot be far behind.

Multiple sources have confirmed that a meeting took place involving Buisson, Yenni’s campaign manager, and Fairbairn where Buisson said something to the effect that “I’m going to like being your boss.”

As Buisson is not a member of JP government, he should not be involved at that or any level with a Department Head nor should he characterize himself in that way.

After reflecting on that prospect, Fairbairn wrote her resignation letter.

Good luck Kriss. I'm sure you will find working with Billy Nungesser a lot more palatable than working under Mike Yenni, I mean, Greg Buisson. 

To quote the late Paul Harvey, “And now you know…the rest of the story.”

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Who (Besides Me, Of Course) Did Not Attend Mike Yenni's Inauguration?

Amid all the discord regarding the petty issues of who's name would be where and who would speak when at last Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony for Jefferson Parish elected officials, one elected official was curiously not present - Assessor Tom Capella.

Capella, who strongly supported Yenni's chief challenger, former JP Councilman Elton Lagasse, was the only JP elected official to not attend the ceremony. Instead, Capella opted to take the oath of office in his office and boycott the ceremony.

Arguably the third most powerful Parishwide elected official, Capella was rumored to be a candidate for Parish President after Aaron Broussard's resignation. After longtime JP Assessor Lawrence Chehardy decided to leave office, Capella opted for the Assessor position instead of campaigning against then fellow Councilman-At-Large John Young.

Young served the remainder of Broussard's term and was re-elected. Rather than seeking another full-term, Young opted to seek the position of Lt. Governor, finishing third in a runoff. Young's candidacy created the vacancy filled by Yenni.

Yenni, who called for unity with the Parish Council, had his feathers ruffled when the JP Council did not agree to Yenni's request to speak last at the ceremony and he also complained about the placement of his name on invitations to the event.

Yenni went so far as to have his own invitations printed with his name in larger type than the other officials also being sworn in at the ceremony.

He was also upset that the Parish Council did not immediately affirm his appointees at a meeting following the swearing-in ceremony. 

Isn't unity wonderful? 

As long as my name is bigger than yours on the invitations.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Yenni: JP’s Westbank “A Stepchild”

Public Speaking rule #1 – Never insult your audience.

Yesterday, as I sat quietly in my humble Kenner abode working feverishly to come up with tonight’s winning Powerball numbers, my phone blew up.

Foolishly, I had set up my “Smartphone” to deliver an audible notification when I received an email or text and had forgotten to mute it.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

The ‘dinging’ was incessant.

It became maddening.

Completely distracted by now, I had to stop my Powerball number quest and look at my phone to see if there was a malfunction and stop the ‘dinging’.

As I swiped my finger across the phone’s screen, I saw the alerts – emails, text messages, Facebook notes.

What is happening? Was it the apocalypse? Comments about Obama’s State of the Union Address?

No, just Mike Yenni opening his mouth and inserting his dead uncle’s shoe into it.

At a meeting of the West Jefferson Civic Coalition, Yenni, ostensibly trying to mend fences, gave a speech that insulted many in attendance and those folks felt the need to alert me with their disgust.

Unlike the sole person quoted in the article, who just happened to be the organizer of the meeting, most in attendance were upset at Yenni’s comments. 

I know - you're shocked that would try to put a pro-Yenni spin on something, right? 

Yenni gave his first speech since his inauguration to a Westbank audience because, unlike the Eastbank sheep that Yenni and his chief Propagandist Greg Buisson have preyed on for the past 6 years, the Westbank voters got it right – they voted for against Yenni.

Calling the Westbank the Eastbank’s ‘stepchild’, Yenni said he was going to spend more time and effort on Westbank issues.

“You can’t hide it, you can’t camouflage it – the Westbank feels like a stepchild of the Eastbank,” Yenni declared.

“I was in my Westbank office today, and that’s going to happen more,” Yenni said.

Note to my Westbank friends: While Yenni paying more attention to the Westbank means he can’t continue to screw up the Eastbank, Yenni’s brand of problem solving won’t help the Westbank’s ills unless you think higher taxes and more debt are a good thing.

To be fair, I didn’t attend the WJCC meeting. As I noted, I had more pressing affairs to attend to (Powerball). Also, I was too busy laughing at an email invitation that I received inviting me to attend the meeting and hear Yenn’s “vision”.

I’ve lived Yenni’s “vision”. Once you take off the rose colored glasses, you see it for the fantasy that it is.

Do you remember the movie “A Clockwork Orange”?

In the 1971 classic, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell) and his pals, the Droogs, go on a crime spree, raping and attacking the English countryside.

After Alex is apprehended and convicted of murder, he is forced to continuously watch violent, pornographic movies and loud classical mucis. He is given an injection that makes him become ill when he sees the violence in an attempt to cure him.

At the end of the film, after Alex is released and is shown to be incapable of further violence, he is so lost and forlorn that he attempts suicide. Afterwards, Alex learns that the therapy he received as been reversed and he craves violent sex again.

Alex happily reveals to movie viewers, “I was cured, alright.”
I recant this movie scene because I was fooled too. When Mike Yenni was elected Kenner Mayor in 2010, I was hopeful.

While I didn’t vote for him, I had hoped that he would bring new ideas to Kenner and help reinvigorate my city.

After 4 years under the “stewardship” of detached Ed Muniz, anything had to be better, right? BTW, congrats Ed on naming yet another family member as Queen of Endymion. That was about as surprising as seeing Yenni wearing his dead uncle’s shoes his inauguration. You’re making big bucks now Mikey. Have your wife take you to the Payless BOGO sale.

I quickly learned the truth – Mike Yenni was in way over his head.

After 6 years, Kenner is in worse shape than before. There is more commercial and residential blight that ever, the Esplanade Mall is crumbling, traffic is not improved, and sewerage still backs up in people’s homes whenever there is a hard rain.

Oh sure, we have some new sewerage projects and the vaunted, yet unproven, 2030 Plan. At first, I thought the 2030 referred to when the debt would be paid off. Now it seems as though that’s when the projects will be completed.

But, we’ve spent enough time walking down Memory Lane. Let’s get back to the present.

In the speech, Yenni again discussed the need to eradicate blight to fight crime and improve public education, ignoring the fact that neither crime or education is under his purview as Parish President.

I can see the headline in a future article:

“Yenni’s Blight Crackdown Reason for Lower JP Murder Rate,” Sheriff Normand Says.

Can’t wait for that one.

"We're going to make sure we focus on combating that blight."

Uh, like you did in Kenner?

Yenni’s way to combat residential blight in Kenner was to have his Code Enforcement Director issue a new set of guidelines as to what determined a “blighted” house.

Kind of like Bill Clinton’s definition of “is”.

Yenni also removed funds from the budget to demolish blighted homes and into a fund for recycling to benefit his friends at Ramelli, Kenner’s trash contractor and a Yenni supporter.

Anyone driving down Kenner’s streets could note the massive amount of commercial blight that was never addressed under Mike Yenni’s Administration.

Regarding education, Yenni said he will be vocal with the Jefferson Parish School Board and noted his appointment of failed former School Board Superintendent Dianne Roussel as one of his chief deputies as proof of his determination to improve education.

While I don't attend every school board meeting, I have only seen Mike Yenni at one meeting ever. 

Also, as I recall, JP’s schools improved AFTER Roussel was removed as Superintendent.

Of course, Roussel supported Yenni’s Parish Presidency bid in a slap to the face of challenger Elton Lagasse. So, rather than appoint someone with experience capable of assisting in solving Jefferson Parish’s problems and move us forward, Yenni created a position for her that didn’t need to be filled.

Roussel will be about as effective in helping the Parish President deal with education as she was while she was School Superintendent.

Zip. Nada. Zilch.

Nothing more than a highly paid political payoff.

Yes Westbank friends, I feel your pain.

As I noted the other day, Valentine’s Day is over.

Now please, stop texting me. While I fixed the ‘dinging’, the constant vibration in my pocket, while pleasing at first, is now a distraction and there's only a few hours left before the Powerball drawing.