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?