Thursday, April 28, 2016

JCVB Head Earned Almost $100k in 2014

Who says that you can’t earn a good living running a non-profit?

Violet Peters, the CEO for the Jefferson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (JCVB), was paid $98,035 in 2014 according to JCVB tax returns.The 2015 tax return was not available.

The non-profit spent $464,836 of its $2.1 Million budget (21%) on personnel in 2014. The JCVB received the bulk of its budget, $1.9 Million from government grants including $1.2 Million from Jefferson Parish.

The group spent $1.478 Million, 69% of its 2014 budget, on Advertising.

The JCVB has been under scrutiny after Kenner State Senator Danny Martiny introduced a bill which would direct 100% of Jefferson Parish’s Hotel/Motel Tax to the bureau, bypassing the Jefferson Parish Council and all Parish oversight.

At the last Jefferson Parish Council meeting, the Council deferred a resolution of support for Martiny’s bill by Councilmen Ben Zahn (whose District is served by Martiny) and Jennifer Van Vrancken.

Citing the removal of oversight, Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock was highly critical of Martiny’s bill and the resolution of support. In fact, McClintock suggested that the Council should take the opposite stance and offer a resolution against Martiny’s bill.

The JCVB has operated under a CEA with the Parish and signed a new 5-year CEA in July, 2015. 

The CEA calls for the JCVB to receive a portion of JP’s Hotel/Motel Tax and, in return, subject itself to audit by the Parish. These audits would be removed if Martiny’s bill is successful.

At the Council meeting, Ms. Peters said that Martiny’s bill was essential for the JCVB to have a stable funding source that could not be removed by politicians. She cited a 30-day Cancellation Clause written into the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) with Jefferson Parish.

However, the prior CEAs between the JCVB and the Parish also included the Cancellation Clause, as do other CEAs between the Parish and NGOs receiving tax dollars.  

The Zahn/Van Vrancken resolution was deferred until the May 11th Council meeting. Martiny said that he will not move on the bill until a resolution of support by the Council is passed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

JP IG: Martiny's CVB Bill "Severely Reduces Oversight"

In a position paper released this afternoon (Tuesday), Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock is critical of State Senator Danny Martiny's bill which would direct all of the parish's Hotel/Motel Tax directly to the Jefferson Convention & Visitor's Bureau (JCVB), bypassing the Parish Council.

In the paper, which was prepared in response to a proposed resolution of support brought forth by JP Councilmembers Ben Zahn and Jennifer Van Vrancken, the IG says that Martiny's bill would negate several Cooperative Endeavor Agreements (CEA) between the Parish and the JCVB and "severely reduce oversight" of tax dollars.

The Parish and the JCVB entered into a CEA in July, 2015, for a 5-year tern, Under the CEA, the JCVB is required to "1) provide quarterly narratives of activity; 2) comply with the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics; 3) submit to audit by the Parish; and 4) submit to oversight by the Jefferson Parish Office of Inspector General.."

"Presently, the JCVB is not statutorily entitled to the proceeds of the hotel occupancy tax. Rather, the JCVB is recognized by ordinance as the body who may receive it under a CEA.. The proposed amendment to state law creates a statutory entitlement in favor of the JCVB and effectively eliminates the Parish's ability to ensure accountability and oversight."

"The proposed amendment would also likely excuse the JCVB from performance under the current CEA since the CEA is a bi-lateral agreement providing Parish tax dollars for services. Enforcement rests on the Parish's receipt and control of the revenue."

"The proposed amendment would also adversely affect the Parish's ability engage in meaningful oversight. For this reason, the JPOIG presents the following analysis for consideration and recommends a resolution opposing the amendment to state law." 

Monday, April 18, 2016

With An Assist From Zahn and Martiny, Buisson and JCVB Attempt End Run of JP Council

Our old buddy Greg Buisson is at it again, and this time he’s calling in some political favors.

Buisson is or was political consultant for many current and former politicians including JP President Mike Yenni; JP Councilmen Ben Zahn (more on him in a minute), Paul Johnston, and Ricky Templet;  Kenner City Councilmen Lenny Cline, Maria DeFrancesch, Dominick Impastato, and Mike Sigur;  former JP President Aaron Broussard (a mentor of Yenni); former Kenner Mayor Ed Muniz (also a Yenni mentor); former Kenner Police Chief and now top Yenni aide Steve Caraway; and former Kenner Mayor and JP Councilman Louis Congemi (who was recently defeated in his bid for the JP Council-At-Large seat held by Chris Roberts).

In addition, Buisson has also done work for JP Councilman Mark Spears and Jennifer Van Vrancken.

In fact, if you search the Louisiana State Ethics Administration website under campaign expenditures, you’ll find 50 pages of items listing millions of dollars paid to Buisson and his company.

And, that’s just for campaigns.

Buisson has also parlayed his political connections to gain access to several groups that receive tax dollars and has funneled those dollars to his company, Buisson Creative Strategies.

From Family Gras to the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo; the Jefferson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau  and Patrons of Lafreniere Park (in Zahn’s district) and Mardi Gras parade stands to issues like Yenni’s failed plan to double Kenner property taxes and the failed attempt by the Jefferson Chamber and business interests to keep sucking money from you with 20 more years of the Crescent City Connection toll, if there’s a dollar to be squeezed from the folks he helped elect, Buisson is there with his arms outstretched.

After Buisson used his influence with the JCVB to attempt to host a candidate forum to showcase his client (Yenni), JP Councilman-At-Large Roberts cried “Foul”.

Roberts supported Yenni’s opponent, former Councilman-At-Large Elton Lagasse.

"One of your top vendors is running a campaign, and you guys are deciding to hold a forum,'' Roberts said. "We have a responsibility as the supervisor of tax dollars that are being collected not to allow anyone to believe that there is any conflict or any potential for impropriety.''

After Yenni defeated Lagasse, and fearing more scheming by Buisson with Yenni at JP’s helm and several Councilmembers on his leash, Roberts drafted an ordinance to ban political operatives from receiving contracts with groups receiving parish dollars if they have consulted a campaign for Parish President or the Council.

"Those running and promoting campaigns should not be running and promoting publicly funded events with tax dollars," Roberts said.

While there is clearly no love lost between myself and Greg Buisson, I supported the Roberts ordinance and so did the JP Council (only Buisson clients Zahn and Johnston opposed). There shouldn’t be any conflicts of interest with taxpayer dollars and, in Jefferson Parish and all over for that matter, there are many conflicts.

Buisson complained that the ordinance targeted his business. Calling the ordinance "ill-conceived, poorly written, and hastily considered," which could also describe speeches and press releases Buisson has written for Yenni and Zahn, Buisson filed a lawsuit in Federal Court suing Roberts and Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit is actually pretty funny in its attempt to portray Buisson as a put-upon small business owner with “minor” contracts just scratching his way from paycheck-to-paycheck and fighting big government.

It doesn’t discuss the Millions Buisson has been paid through campaigns and the Millions more he has received through non-profits affiliated with the government. Or the free tuition State Rep. Helena Moreno arranged for Buisson’s son at Tulane.

Now Buisson is pushing a different “strategy” and using the Louisiana Legislature to do an end run around the Roberts ordinance.

Senate Bill 378, promoted by Kenner State Senator Danny Martiny, would mandate the parish’s hotel/motel tax to be “directed” to the JCVB. Currently, the funds go to Jefferson Parish and are distributed by the Council with a large chunk, over $1.2 Million in 2015 alone, going to the JCVB.

Buisson's not content with only get the lion's share of the Hotel/Motel Tax, he wants it all and
Martiny’s bill would give ALL of the hotel/motel tax to the JCVB and put more money in Buisson's pocket..

The bill would only apply to the JCVB and not other parish’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus.

Just what we need – another law that if for a single special interest.

The JCVB already receives all of Kenner’s Hotel/Motel Tax revenue after Yenni diverted the funds to the group rather than find a Kenner-centric organization to promote Kenner after allegations of financial improprieties were uncovered regarding the Kenner CVB.

Then-Kenner Councilman Ben Zahn was a member of the KCVB and a representative of the Council on the KCVB Board. Despite the conflict and Zahn’s approval of City Council funding for the KCVB despite his membership and personal interest, since the KCVB was disbanded, the State IG declined to pursue any action against Zahn.

If you recall, Zahn sued me for exposing the conflicts of interest and calling on the IG to investigate. 

He lost.


When he disbanded the KCVB, then-Mayor Yenni said, “I want to know where our money is being spent.”

I'm still wondering what happened with the vaunted Police investigation Yenni requested.

It’s ironic that, with his political consultant virtually running the JCVB, Yenni is not asking the same question, but, we already know where the money is going – Buisson’s pocket.

At Wednesday’s JP Council meeting, Buisson client Zahn will introduce his own resolution seeking the Jefferson Parish Legislative Delegation’s support for Martiny’s bill (which they will no doubt do anyway, despite its ramifications).

The ordinance is co-sponsored by Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken.

Van Vrancken did not respond to a request to comment.

The Councilwoman’s aide, Jeffrey Simno, while ducking questions regarding the contradictory nature of the ordinance and the lack of transparency, said in an email, The Addendum Item 18 resolution in support of SB378, as put forth by Sen. Martiny, is typical of local council resolutions supporting legislation put forth by the parish’s state delegation.  With JCVB now well-established with a proven track record, we are excited by the possibility of finally bringing JCVB in line with other CVBs throughout the state.” 

 A “proven track record” of what exactly – funneling money to Greg Buisson?

What about transparency or accounting for every public dollar? NGOs like the JCVB that receive public funding need MORE scrutiny, not less as Martiny, Zahn, Yenni and, of course, Buisson, would like.

Councilman Roberts is obviously opposed to Zahn’s resolution and Martiny’s bill.

“It is never a good idea in today's time of increased oversight and accountability to allow a private agency to receive public dollars direct without the oversight and scrutiny of public auditing. Changing this arrangement would disallow the parish internal auditor, the Inspector General, or any other check and balance review of this agency to occur which has proven to be beneficial in rooting out waste and abuses,” Roberts said.

The Jefferson Parish Council will discuss Zahn’s resolution at this Wednesday’s meeting.  The Legislature has not yet put SB 378 on the calendar. We will keep you posted.