Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lyin’ Ben Starts To See The Light – 6 Years Later


I don’t often laugh out loud and I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed out loud while watching the annual Kenner Budget Meeting, but this year I laughed out loud on several occasions.
The fact that I watched the Budget Meeting on a replay on KTV at 3am, is proof of my insomnia. This year, unlike in years past, I was forced to watch the meeting on TV since Kenner's Public Information Officer (a former T/P reporter) does such a great job of informing the public of "Public Information".
No pun intended but "Information" is in the middle of your job title although the truth is, I've always believed that Kenner having a "Public Information Officer" was a complete waste of tax dollars. But hey, it's better than him being the Deputy Clerk of Courts, right? Oh, that's right - he WAS the Deputy Clerk of Courts in the Yenni Administration.

Normally, the budget meeting is a pretty dry affair – nothing overly contentious and nothing earth shattering. The Department Directors parade up to the microphone and give out terse details about their departments and where our money is being spent. Typically, each Department Director is at the mic for a few minutes and, almost always, they parrot the same lines: “It’s a pretty much standstill budget with only increases for insurance and pensions.”

Some larger departments, like Recreation, receive more time than others.

During the Muniz years, Mayor Edmund barely spoke. Since his back was to the audience, and since I knew Muniz, I often believed that his silence was because he was nodding off. Truth be told, I’ve nodded off at a few budget meetings myself and I’m probably 20 years younger than Ed.

During Jefferson Parish’s Sexual Predator-In-Chief’s tenure as Kenner Mayor, Mike Yenni also barely spoke differing to then-CAO Mike Quigley or then-Finance Director Duke McConnell. I cannot confirm that Yenni’s silence was due to him sexting underage boys  or daydreaming about stalking them in public restrooms (although that certainly is a possibility).

This year’s budget meeting was a little different affair with Lyin’ Ben Zahn, in his first swing at the budget (and, with any luck, his last).

While new CAO Deborah Foshee did the bulk of the heavy lifting (just as in real life where Lyin’ Ben can’t carry his own weight), Zahn did speak more than Muniz and Yenni combined.

Not sure if that is a good thing or not, but it certainly did make me laugh.

When Lyin’ Ben defeated me in 2011 for the Jefferson Parish District 4 Council seat, I made an issue of the over funding that Kenner sent to Jefferson Parish. I highlighted 3 areas that Kenner was drastically over funding JP and not receiving the proper amount of services for our tax dollars:

1). The RTA. Kenner tax payers were spending several hundred thousand dollars (at the time, I think it was about $800k) along with more from the City’s General Fund, for poor bus service.

2). The JP 911 Service. Kenner tax payers were also spending about $500k more to fund JP’s 911 call center despite the fact that Kenner had its own 911 call center and doesn’t use JP’s.

3). The Lafreniere Park tax. On every water bill, Kenner residents pay a tax to support Lafreniere Park. In 2011, the tax generated about $400k for Lafreniere Park. There was a time when this may have made sense but, Kenner has its own parks now and that funding could better be utilized by Kenner for Kenner recreation.

None of the three were original ideas by me. I merely tried to cast more light on them and, if I were elected, I would have made it a priority to get Kenner its fair share.

While I doubted that I would be able to secure the almost $2 Million annually in over payments sent to JP annually, it was clear that even if ½ came back to Kenner, the City could use that money for infrastructure, recreation and public safety.

On the campaign trail, on the few times where Lyin’ Ben would debate me or meet me at a community forum, Zahn scoffed at getting this funding back from JP.

To be fair, after some citizen pressure and with Mike Yenni taking credit for it, Zahn was able to secure about $250k in rebates from the RTA. At the time, it was supposed to be a one-time deal but at the budget meeting it appears that Kenner is receiving slightly more than the $250k Zahn secured but nowhere near the $900k in annual tax dollars or the $500k city subsidy that the RTA currently receives for the Kenner loop.

During his time on the JP Council, Zahn never addressed the 911 fee or the Lafreniere Park tax.

Now, it appears, that Zahn has changed his tune and wants more money back from the RTA or better service (or both).

While this is certainly a step in the right direction, Lyin’ Ben suggested that the Kenner City Council write a letter to the JP Council seeking the RTA rebate.

What?

You were on the JP Council representing Kenner for 5+ years and now a letter from the City Council is all it will take to get more money?

If you’re like me (and God help you if you are), you laughed heartily at that.

One of my other “laugh-out-loud” moments came when Lyin’ Ben discussed JEDCO.

For years, I’ve advocated against Kenner paying $75k annually to JEDCO. After all, Kenner is part of JP and JEDCO should be working for us anyway.

When Yenni contracted with JEDCO, he said that the costs involved in having an in-house Economic Development Department in Kenner would far outweigh the $75k sent to JEDCO.

Now, Lyin’ Ben wants to hire a Mayoral Assistant in charge of Economic Development and pay him/her $50k, saving Kenner $25k, although the bulk of that savings will go to benefit costs.

This is a good thing for Kenner, assuming that Lyin’ Ben can find a quality Economic Development person for $50k and, there was no money allocated in the budget for travel and other expenses which would be crucial for visiting potential companies that might consider Kenner.

So, for the moment, pending an announcement on who will be Kenner’s new Economic Development Guru (since clearly, no one wants Lyin’ Ben the unlicensed Florist in charge of Economic Development), I guess we should be giving Zahn props yet.

Even Lyin’ Ben isn’t giving himself props.

“Let’s try it for a year or two and, if it doesn’t work, we can always go back to JEDCO.”

Since the JEDCO experiment didn’t work, why don’t we just drive down Williams Blvd and throw 75,000 $1 bills out the window.

Now, if Lyin’ Ben were truly bold, he would also stop the JCVB money grab that robs Kenner of its Hotel/Motel tax dollars with no accountability.

In the years since Yenni dissolved the Kenner Convention & Visitors’ Bureau (KCVB), Kenner has funneled our tax dollars to the JCVB, which is controlled by Yenni and Zahn’s campaign manager, Greg Buisson. If you want to read about Lyin’ Ben’s part in the KCVB issue, click here.

The JCVB has provided no accounting of where Kenner’s tax dollars have been spent and there has been no benchmarks set regarding hotel occupancy or conventions attracted to the Pontchartrain Center, etc.

Where has the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually sent to the JCVB (and the “Marketing Fund” promised by SMG for Yenni’s covert renewal of the Pontchartrain Center management) gone?

Aside from Greg Buisson’s greedy pockets, your guess is as good as mine.

So, while Lyin’ Ben is starting to see the light and taking steps with the RTA and in-house Economic Development, these are only baby steps. He hasn’t done anything yet regarding the RTA and hasn’t hired the Economic Development person, so, for now anyway, they are only baby steps.  

And no, I’m not taking a shot at Lyin’ Ben’s small stature.

Although I just made myself laugh out loud again.
Thanks Ben.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Kenner Councilman Offends White People and Women In The Same Breath


I have long riffed on the intelligence or rather, the lack of intelligence, of Kenner District 4 City Councilman Lenny Cline.

Cline is the posterchild for the indisputable fact that having a college degree, let alone two, is not a sign of intelligent life.

Don’t believe me? Attend a Kenner City Council meeting while Cline is still Council President. How someone can still screw up minor procedures like calling for a vote to open a public hearing is beyond me.

And please explain to me how you can put together a three-person committee (with yourself being one of the three) and screw that up?
When a major project for a new apartment complex in his District was up for approval at a Council Meeting, Cline said, "I don't have any negative or positive thoughts on the project until I see all the evidence. I want to know what's going there and why, and what quality of units will be there."

Need more proof?





It’s ok…I will wait.

As if the mountain of verbal faux pas spewing from Cline weren’t enough, at Thursday’s Kenner City Council Meeting Cline stunned even me.

Near the end of the meeting, Cline was attempting to make a point about Kenner’s diversity.

After saying that all White people “look alike” (sorry Lenny – you and I look nothing alike), Cline stated that “Kenner even has a Female City Attorney”.

The horror!

I know you are as shocked as I am that the City of Kenner, the 6th largest City in Louisiana, would have a woman as its City Attorney.

Since the departure of former Mayor and current Jefferson Parish Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni to Parish government resulted in many Yenni-Loyalists including one of his most trusted lap dogs, former Interim City Attorney Mike Power (who was “Interim City Attorney” so that Yenni could circumvent the will of the Kenner people and dodge Kenner’s residency requirement for Department Directors, a circumvention that is continuing in the Lyin’ Ben Zahn administration), former Kenner Assistant City Attorney Leigh Roussel was promoted to Kenner City Attorney.

Roussel, who was Assistant City Attorney for several years, is eminently qualified. My dealings with her in the past have always been professional, even when we’ve disagreed.

Her promotion to City Attorney was long overdue and Kenner is lucky to have her.

Even if she is a woman. Right Lenny?


Well folks, for Lenny Cline’s sake, I sure hope he too has really small feet.

We already know that he has a really small brain.  




Wednesday, May 3, 2017

$40+ Million And We Get Fake Bricks? Only In Kenna Brah


When former Kenner Mayor and current Jefferson Parish Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni took on the largest debt in Kenner’s history for “beautification” and public art in medians, I don’t think the good people of Kenner thought they would be getting fake bricks painted with stencils.

After all, we’re talking about the medians of some of Kenner’s most trafficked roadways, not a grade school art project.

But, if you drive down many Kenner streets including 32nd Street from Williams Blvd. into The Esplanade or Williams Blvd. through Rivertown or many other streets in Kenner, you don’t see public art in the medians or trees or anything that would remotely be considered “beautification”.

What you do see is fake bricks painted over the concrete medians.

It was almost 4 years when I sat down with former Times-Picayune columnist Jim Varney to discuss the largess of Yenni’s 2030 Plan and the excessive spending involved in the Yenni Administration. If you want a refresher, here’s a link to the article.

In the nearly 4 years since that article appeared, in addition to the $42 Million or so in debt that Yenni sold, the City of Kenner has received Millions in Federal, State and Regional grants that went towards many of the road projects involved in Yenni’s scheme.

In addition, Kenner received $6.9 Million from the BP Oil Spill Settlement and over $1 Million more from permits and fees involving the new Armstrong Airport Terminal.

And, a few short weeks ago, voters in Kenner approved the renewal of property tax millage for road maintenance costing property owners several Million more for the next ten year. 

When he discussed the BP Oil Spill Settlement money, Yenni said,

"Imagine how those funds will be put to good use as we reshape Kenner for generations to come." He gave no hint of his administration's plans for the money.

And this is on top of the supposedly transformative $42 Million from the 2030 Plan debt that was supposed to remake Kenner into a pedestrian-friendly suburb that young millennial families would flock to.

So, where did all the money go?

Was the money spent on making the intersection of Williams and Vets more “pedestrian-friendly”? After all, that was one of the topics that Jim Varney and I discussed 4 years ago.

No. The City did build a bike path on Williams Blvd. under I-10 for the thousands of bike riders that traverse up Williams Blvd. daily. Ok, maybe it’s not “thousands” but I have seen more than 1 person riding his bike under I-10. Sadly, I’ve never seen more than 1 at a time though.

Kenner also got another overpriced bike path on David Drive that is also lightly used.

Ok, was the money spent on making Williams Blvd. safer? After all, that was one of the largest projects in Yenni’s 2030 Plan.

No, Williams Blvd. has changed much except for the repair of the sinkhole near the Circle K at Williams and Vets.

So, again I ask, where’s the money?

4 years after the bond debt was sold and the people of Kenner have never received an accurate accounting of not only the 2030 Plan Debt, the amount of grants received, or the funding of the projects, and, if grant funding was used for the projects and replaced money that was budgeted, what was the budgeted money spent on?

Kenner is building a $1.5 Million shed though.

I guess when Yenni was talking about all the projects that would “reshape Kenner for generations” and some folks foolishly believed the lines about the need for “beautification” to attract young, affluent families to Kenner, we should have known that the priorities were building “The Taj Mahal of sheds” to keep outdoor generators secure and buying stencils and paint for fake bricks in medians.

Well, I guess it’s better than spending tourism money for decorative street lighting, right Lyin’ Ben?

Only in Kenna Brah…


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Kenner Council Punts Zahn/Sigur Uber Money Grab


If you’ve read this blog before or if you’re unfortunate enough to actually know me, you know that I’m a “Limited Government” guy. I firmly believe that the less government involvement in my life, the better.

So, when I learned months ago that the Kenner City Council was discussing an ordinance to regulate Uber, Lyft and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), I was torn.

On the one hand, Kenner has been behind in the regulation and oversight of companies like Uber and Lyft and, yes, I believe that they should be regulated. While on the surface Uber and Lyft (and their accommodation companions like AirBNB) are primarily middlemen connecting consumers to individuals offering their personal items and time for a fee, TNCs are essentially providing vehicles for hire (albeit without the cost of owning their fleet, local licensing and other regulations faced by other “Vehicles for Hire” companies like Taxicabs or Limo Companies).

As a “Vehicle for Hire” company, a term that the TNCs distance themselves from, I believe that Uber, Lyft and others should face the same licensing, insurance and other regulations (and fees) that burden Taxi and Limo Companies especially regarding public safety issues like criminal background checks, drug tests, and licensing.
If there are going to be regulations, there needs to be regulations for all companies in an industry. The playing field must be level.

On the other hand, while Kenner was way behind in regulating Uber and Lyft, I really didn’t want Mental Midgets like Lyin’ Ben Zahn, Lenny Cline, Mike Sigur and others involved in regulating anything related to the economy and certainly not the New Economy. Remember this is the group that decided that Kenner shouldn’t allow boat owners to park their boats in their driveways before boat owners rebelled forcing Sigur, Cline and the minions to take a step back for a year.  

I mean, let’s get real: Lenny Cline couldn’t form a three-person committee to study TNCs (with himself as one of the three) without screwing it up; the duplicitous, ethically-challenged Sigur, while professing the proposed ordinance was about “Public Safety”, simply saw Dollar Sign$ and money from new fees pouring into Kenner; and Lyin’ Ben isn’t qualified to write a grocery list let alone an ordinance impacting the future of transportation.

And, if it wasn’t a money grab, why only limit the fees to rides picked up at the Airport, since there are no other “Transportation Facilities” in Kenner?

I know that Lyin’ Ben keeps professing to have had little to do with the ordinance but his money-grubbing fingerprints were all over the legislation (as were the obvious errors in the proposed legislation that would have landed Kenner in court for years).

On more than one occasion, Zahn publicly stated that doing anything – even attaching a small fee like $.50 per Uber trip, would be “something”.

Yes Lyin’ Ben, it would be “something” – more shekels for the Kenner Treasury. Adding a fee would amount to nothing, I repeat nothing Mr. Sigur, for the public safety of consumers using TNCs or for other drivers navigating Kenner’s roads.

The truth is, I’m sure Uber and Lyft would much prefer a $.50 fee than the $4+ fees proposed by Kenner.  But, $6 per passenger for Airport Shuttles? Who on the Kenner City Council didn’t communicate with the shuttle company and learn that they are under a bid contract and can’t increase their fees to accommodate the Zahn/Sigur money grab?  

So, after months of debate (and wasted time), the Kenner City Council finally indefinitely deferred their TNC ordinance.  

At Thursday’s Kenner City Council meeting, the rationale for deferring the ordinance was pending State legislation, including a proposed bill by newly-elected District 92 State Rep Joe Stagni, would soon supplant any City legislation.

Stagni is a former Kenner City Councilman and his House District includes a significant portion of Kenner.  

At the meeting, Lyin’ Ben said he spoke with Rep Stagni several times regarding TNCs and would continue lobbying Stagni, Rep Julie Stokes (whose District includes the Northern section of Kenner) and others to get a bill passed that would benefit Kenner.

There is also a proposed bill by Republican District 62 Rep Kenny Havard regarding TNCs. Havard’s district includes portions of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana and West Feliciana parishes. I could take a cheap shot and ask, who knew that Uber was even available in East and West Feliciana, but that would be too easy.

But, if neither bill passes and isn’t signed into law, Kenner will be back where they are now – without any regulations regarding TNCs and, even if one of the two bills does pass, it will be months before the legislation will take effect which, again, leaves TNCs unregulated in Kenner.

That being said, while both bills impose a lower fee on TNCs than the Zahn/Sigur Money Grab, is either bill good for Kenner, public safety and consumers?

Not in their current forms.

Rep Havard’s bill, HB 527, while more comprehensive than Rep Stagni’s HB 672, has some very clear holes in it.

Havard’s bill imposes a 1% “local assessment fee” compared to Stagni’s $.25 per trip fee.

By his own admission, Rep Stagni’s bill is “not complete” and simply assesses a $.25 fee per TNC trip. Currently, the money collected under Stagni’s bill goes to the State Highway fund.

But, let’s talk about what neither bill includes.

Neither bill provides regulation regarding  "Dynamic" or “Surge pricing”. “Surge pricing” is when Uber/Lyft significantly increases their fees for very high demand usage like fleeing a natural disaster or even special events like JazzFest. Complaints about “surge pricing” (essentially price-gouging) have been rampant regarding Uber for years. In 2014, Austin (TX) residents complained about paying almost $300 for an 11-mile ride home during Halloween. The normal fare would have been less than $20.
Uber also faced numerous complaints regarding "Surge pricing" from residents fleeing Hurricane Sandy.
“Dynamic Pricing” indeed.

Neither bill requires Uber/Lyft drivers to obtain a chauffer’s license or Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). If you’re hauling people or making deliveries, even if part-time, you should be required to have more than a simple Driver’s License.

Neither bill mandates minimum insurance requirements for drivers other than normal state minimums. As Uber/Lyft drivers are independent contractors, they may or may not be covered in Louisiana by the TNC’s blanket insurance policy, and they clearly do not have commercial insurance coverage.

While Havard’s bill addresses service animals, neither bill adequately includes provisions for disabled riders or accessibility that remotely meets ADA guidelines. In 2014, a lawsuit was filed in California alleging Uber denied service to blind passengers. In the suit, it was alleged that an Uber driver put the service dog of a blind passenger in the trunk of his vehicle.

Neither bill mandates that TNC drivers or their vehicles be licensed in Louisiana.

Neither bill mandates that TNC drivers possess local occupational licenses. If TNC drivers are “Independent Contractors” as defined in Havard’s bill, a local occupational license should be required. An occupational license is required for Uber drivers in many cities including San Francisco, where Uber is headquartered.

Labeling TNC drivers as “Independent Contractors” has also been a legal bone of contention both among several States and the Federal government and many TNC drivers themselves.
The California Labor Commissioner's Office ruled that a former Uber driver was indeed an "employee". A Florida ruling granted a former Uber driver unemployment benefits.
Uber has vigorously fought the "Employee" designation which would make the company liable for collecting employment taxes and subject them to additional regulations.

Neither bill mandates that TNC vehicles are subjected to the same inspections as Taxis. In many cities, TNC vehicles are required to have annual comprehensive safety inspections, not simply a brake tag.

While Havard’s bill discusses a “Zero Tolerance Policy” regarding allegations of driving while intoxicated and imposes a driver suspension if there is an allegation, it does not preclude the TNC driver from simply joining a different TNC and continuing to operate.

Havard’s bill states that TNC drivers are required to complete a background check by the company but doesn’t specifically require a fingerprint background scan. Fingerprint scans are required for TNC drivers in New York City (the same as Taxi drivers) and Houston and are considered significantly more reliable than other background checks.  Uber shuttered operations in Austin, TX, after voters there defeated a proposal to allow Uber to continue using only the company-mandated background checks.  

Havard’s bill also curiously states that “a TNC or TNC driver is not a common carrier, contract carrier, or motor carrier, does not provide taxi or for-hire vehicle service, and is not required to register the TNC vehicle as a commercial motor vehicle or for-hire vehicle.”

Ok.

If an Uber/Lyft driver is not a “vehicle for hire”, what are they?

If you are moving a passenger or goods from point A to point B, and you're not a delivery or taxi company, what does that make you? Essentially, a non-regulated Taxi.

If you think that I’m anti-Uber or pro-Taxi, you would be mistaken. In fact, I’m not even anti the Kenner City Council. We need the Kenner City Council and Lyin’ Ben the Mayor to continue to remind us what truly inept government is.

Since I’m feeling generous, I will throw the Kenner City Council a bone – a Taxi related issue that they can actually fix (if they have the intestinal fortitude, which is debatable).

Four years ago, when I was on the Kenner Code Advisory Committee, we spent hours debating multiple vehicles parked in front of houses and commercial vehicles (including Taxis) parked in residential areas.

There are examples all over Kenner (including several in District 2, Councilman Sigur’s District) of 3 or more Taxi cabs parked in front of a residence. This is truly a public safety issue and one that could be easily rectified.

Driving down a narrow street and seeing multiple Taxi cabs parked on the street is both an eyesore and a safety hazard (certainly much more of both than someone’s boat parked in their driveway).

Back then, after several meetings and hours of debate, it became apparent that the political appointees of then-Mayor Mike Yenni wouldn’t let the rest of the committee proceed regarding recommendations for establishing rules regarding multiple commercial vehicles operating out of a residence.

Within the committee, we speculated that Kenner Taxi drivers/owners might have stopped the process by going directly to Yenni. That was never able to be proven and I was asked to resign from the Committee when I qualified to run for Mayor  against Yenni (although I’ve yet to see the legal precedent for that request, I’m sure Keith Conley would whip up some legal nonsense to prove his point).

Commercial vehicles should not be parked overnight on the street in residential areas.
Period.
Again, a problem that is easily fixable.

Who said that  I wasn’t “solutions oriented”?  

Since Kenner clearly has been either unable or unwilling to adequately protect consumers and drivers, while providing a level, competitive playing field for TNCs and Taxi, Limo and Shuttle companies, let’s hope that either Rep Havard or Stagni amend their bills to include specific regulations that can benefit us and not just large companies like Uber and Lyft.

It would also help if any legislation were more than just a money grab.

We have enough of that in Louisiana (and Kenner) as it is.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Strollin’ Down Memory Lane Courtesy of Facebook and an Ex-Friend


Like many folks, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. While I enjoy seeing my friend’s accomplishments, achievements and life events (sorry, what you had for lunch is not a “life event”), the anonymity of Facebook can make it a pretty dark place. When folks you’ve never met (and will never meet) or who barely know you, make judgements about your life and your character, something is wrong.

And, we’ve all done it.

Two things happened to me in the past few days on Facebook that made me stop and think.

First, courtesy of Facebook, I was unceremoniously reminded that, three years ago (against the advice of Doctors and many others) I ran for Mayor of Kenner. Obviously, Facebook was not aware that was not one of most positive “life events” in my now 55 years on this Earth.

We all know how that story ended, Mike Yenni beat me, but how many of us could have foreseen what the three years since that election would bring?

We now know that, even before the election, Mike Yenni was campaigning for his next job as Parish President.

We now know that, after his re-election as Mayor and before his ascension to Parish President, Yenni (a married father) was trying to hook up with teenage boys to add to his sexual conquests.

We now know that Yenni sexted at least one high school boy, bought him gifts, kissed him in a public restroom, suggested the two add another teen for gay threesome, and suggested that he and the teenage boy leave the state for a sexual rendezvous in Mississippi.

I wonder if Yenni’s Facebook page will remind him of those “life events”?

In Kenner, we now know that, after Yenni moved to Parish Government, we had a first-term, ethically-challenged Councilman appointed as “Interim Mayor”.

We now know that Kenner received Millions in the BP Oil Settlement that the Council promptly squandered on unnecessary buildings and projects loaded with contracts for their campaign contributors. This, on top of the $40 Million from Yenni’s debt sale for more unnecessary buildings and projects.   

We now know that, like Yenni, Lyin’ Ben Zahn quit on the job that he was elected to do (for a second time) and was elected Kenner Mayor leaving us with an Interim JP Councilman for almost a year.

I could say something snarky like, “See what happens when you don’t vote the right way?” but, that wouldn’t make me feel any better about myself or the state of the City of Kenner.

Being right doesn’t make things right.

The fact is, even if the voters in Kenner knew that Mike Yenni was a sexual predator trolling school events to hook up with young boys, he still would have beat me.

And, I’m ok with that.

But having Facebook throw my election defeat back in my face did make me think (for a second anyway) about what happened and what could have happened differently if circumstances had changed.

Which brings me to the second Facebook item that made me stop and think.

A person that I once considered a friend (yes, we ALL have those on Facebook) made a post that was critical of another person that I once considered a friend while simultaneously extolling the virtues a third person that I know is scumbag (for lack of a better term).

I hope you followed that because there will be a quiz at the end of this post. The “Winner” will get to read the pieces of paper contained in the infamous envelope with the word “TEXTS” written on it that George Peterson carries with him everywhere.

I can’t win since, while I don’t know if what’s inside the envelope is the actual texts that Mike Yenni sent to a high school boy, I have already seen many of the actual texts that Yenni sent and I don’t need to subject myself to seeing them again and I surely won't write about them. We all know what happened when JP Councilman Chris Roberts wrote about Yenni's texts to fellow JP Councilman Jennifer Van Vrancken. I don't need the "Investigative Unit" at Fox 8 following me around.  

But, back to the Facebook post.

Normally, I just roll through Facebook and don’t comment unless it’s to congratulate someone on a positive “life event” (again, lunch is not a “life event” imo).

As I read the post, I came upon a comment from a “friend” of my ex-friend. In the comment, he threw out words like “integrity” and “honesty” and tried to correlate them to Ben Zahn.

Yes, Lyin’ Ben Zahn.

Since I’ve known Ben Zahn for easily 10 years, I felt compelled to reply to this comment.

I know that I shouldn’t, but I did anyway.

You know how it is when you come to a fork in the road and you go left but after you’ve gone you realize that you should have gone right but you’ve gone so far that it’s too late to turn back.

That was me on Facebook.

Rather than just go on with my life, I questioned my ex-friend’s friend and whether he was on drugs. I mean, discussing “integrity” and “honesty” along with Ben Zahn in the same sentence is grounds for a sobriety test.

At the least, this person should not be operating heavy machinery.

As soon as I posted, I regretted saying it. After all, who am I to question someone else. Perhaps this person was on drugs or perhaps he was fooled by Lyin’ Ben.

Or, maybe Lyin’ Ben actually did something nice for this person or actually did his job and followed up on a complaint.

Or, maybe this person has a man-crush on Lyin’ Ben.

The point is, I don’t know and I should have stopped myself.

It wasn’t long before the haters came out.

Of course, aside from ex-friend, I didn’t know who any of these people were (and, they don’t know me). But that didn’t stop them from throwing their bricks at me.

That’s fine. After everything that I’ve done in my life I’m used to the “haters”.

But, when my ex-friend said that I was an “underachiever”, I had to shake my head (smh for the Facebook crowd).

You see, I’ve known this person for maybe 4 years. He was introduced to me by a mutual friend because he wanted my help.

That’s right – he wanted my “underachieving” help.

The fact that this person, who knows little about my life and what I’ve done felt the need to publicly call me an “underachiever” is truly ironic.

Now, I’m not going to go into his background or make comparisons. That’s not right. His life and his life choices are between him and God, as are mine.

But, his “underachiever” comment did get me thinking.

There are some things that I do well and some things that I’ve done in my life that were pretty damn good.

I like animals. I can cook pretty good. I write ok (I mean, you’re reading this aren’t you?).

I think I’m a good person. I've owned successful businesses and some that were not as successful as they should have been.
Have I always hit homeruns when I’ve been up at bat? Of course not.

But, “underachiever”?

Since this person doesn’t really know anything about my life, and he has only known me for a few years, I’m assuming that he was referring to my impact on Kenner.

Yes, I ran for office twice and lost. Since I wasn’t expected to win either time, my losing can’t be considered “underachieving”. In all honesty, considering the amount that I was overspent and the uphill battles I fought, I actually did much better than I ever imagined.

So, how exactly have I “underachieved”?

In 2011, I led a group of citizens and we beat back Mike Yenni’s plan to double property taxes. This saved Kenner property owners $12 Million a year, over $70 Million thus far. Despite Yenni, Zahn and others proclaiming that the City of Kenner would go down the tubes and criminals would rule Kenner if the taxes weren’t approved, neither happened and Kenner property owners have more money in their pockets. Since the tax wasn’t imposed on businesses, Kenner’s non-property owners also have more money to spend.

In 2013, I helped a predominantly West Bank group of citizens defeat the attempt to continue the Crescent City Connection toll for another 20 years. Another group of average citizens standing up to the politicians. The CCC toll took $20 Million annually from the folks who crossed the bridge and kept it out of the hands of politicians who took the money from here for projects across the state. Another $80 Million thus far in our pockets and not the politician’s pockets.  

Also in 2013, I sued the City of Kenner and Mike Yenni to stop him from taking on the largest debt in Kenner’s history without voter approval. While my lawsuit was dismissed, I still stood up for what I believed. We’re now 4 years into Yenni’s 2030 Plan. Aside from some public art (a tax deduction for Henry Shane) and a bike lane near Williams and I-10, have you seen any significant improvements to Kenner? Has there been an accounting of the 2030 Plan and the budget? Has there been an accounting of Federal, State and Regional grants that replaced 2030 Plan funding and where that money was reallocated?

Of course not. That was my primary issue with the 2030 Plan – there was never any transparency. We (the people) didn’t approve the projects or approve the money and we have no idea where the money went.

But, again, I stood up for what I thought was right despite the “haters” and the personal attacks.

In 2014, I helped another citizens group gain support for the passage of the Louisiana Clarity Act, a law that provides for transparency in the property insurance industry statewide and should lead to more educated consumers and lower property and flood insurance rates for everyone.

Again, more money in your pocket (although this time at the expense of the insurance industry).

Those are just 4 big examples. I’ve also been involved in lots of projects and issues that impact Kenner and Jefferson Parish.

I guess that if standing up for what I believe in despite the personal costs, trying to live with integrity and honoring God daily, make me an “underachiever”, I will gladly wear that badge and buy the matching t-shirt.

I can only hope that my ex-friend is as much of an “underachiever” as I am.



   

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

I Wrote Too Soon – New Orleans WILL Take Down The Monuments



Unlike Jefferson Parish’s Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni, I’m a big enough person to admit when I’ve made a mistake.

Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that often.

In my last post, I wrote about Yale University renaming Calhoun College and the parallel with New Orleans attempting to remove historic monuments and rewrite history.

I noted that a Judge had stopped the attempt.

Yesterday, a different Judge overruled the second Judge’s ruling and will allow three of the four monuments in question to be removed.

So, while I wasn’t really wrong, I did write too soon.

Kind of like the blogging equivalent of a premature ejaculation.

Hey, there’s no shame in that. Many of us have been there before at one time or another.

The three are all Civil War related and have stood prominently in New Orleans for over a decade. The fourth, a plaque that commemorates a white supremacist group that led an uprising against Louisiana’s post-Civil War reconstruction government, is involved in separate litigation.

Soon the statues of Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis will be removed and placed in a less conspicuous area TBD.

I understand how some might find the monuments offensive – to some,  they represent a commemoration of slavery and oppression. Slavery should not be revered.

But the Civil War was about more than slavery and, in this overly sensitive PC world we must navigate through, anyone can find fault with anything.

Don’t believe me – take a look at Facebook on any given day.

For the past 8 years, if you were against former President Obama, you were considered a racist. If you were against ObamaCare, you were a racist and against the poor.

Now, if you are for President Trump, you’re a white supremacist. If you’re for a border wall and immigration reform, you’re anti-Hispanic.

When is this nonsense going to end?

If you examine the history of any country or any ethnic group, you can find things to not be proud of.

However Lee, Beauregard and Davis did not invent slavery.

Black slaves were brought to America by European slave traders and slavery, in some form, has been around almost since the beginning of time.

The Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 B.C.) mentions slavery.

“Law #15: "If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.”

Ancient Greeks, Romans and Eqyptians were all involved in the different variations of slavery using captured war prisoners as slaves, using slaves as personal servants and you could even be enslaved if you had too much debt.

Better pay off those credit cards.  

Are we going to boycott Italian Restaurants, stop visiting Greece and Egypt and cut up our Visa Cards?

America didn’t invent slavery and slavery didn’t end with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.

In fact, in 1930’s Ethiopia, there were an estimated 2 Million slaves.

If you don’t know, Ethiopia is in Africa.

In addition to Ethiopia, which abolished slavery for good in 1942 (although occupying Italian forces in 1935 abolished it first), Nigeria was a major slave country until 1936.

Nigeria is also in Africa.

Last year, we celebrated the Olympics in Rio. Did you know that slavery wasn’t abolished in Brazil until 1888?

Better tell our guys to give back all those medals. 

The fact is, you would be hard pressed to find a country or a culture that didn’t have slavery in some form.Even some religions have slavery in their history.

No, America didn’t invent slavery and I’m clearly not advocating for a return to slavery. What I am saying is, slavery is a part of American history whether you or I like it or not. We cannot rewrite history or only teach the history that makes us look good and feel proud.


“The white man did not introduce slavery to Africa . . . . And by the fifteenth century, men with dark skin had become quite comfortable with the concept of man as property . . . . Long before the arrival of Europeans on West Africa’s coast, the two continents shared a common acceptance of slavery as an unavoidable and necessary—perhaps even desirable—fact of existence. The commerce between the two continents, as tragic as it would become, developed upon familiar territory. Slavery was not a twisted European manipulation, although Europe capitalized on a mutual understanding and greedily expanded the slave trade into what would become a horrific enterprise . . . . It was a thunder that had no sound. Tribe stalked tribe, and eventually more than 20 million Africans would be kidnapped in their own homeland.”

So, if even the Left-leaning PBS doesn’t blame white America for slavery, why are we taking down monuments of white men and with all of the problems facing New Orleans why is Mitch Landrieu pushing for the monument removal?

Politics.

Clearly fixing the horrendous condition of New Orleans’ streets,  reducing crime, or providing a corruption-free government doesn’t rally your base and increase your notoriety.
Those are things that an elected official should be expected to do.

But, they don’t generate votes.

And, that’s sad.

At some point, we need to start holding our elected officials to a higher standard and stop electing, re-electing and promoting politicians that are only interested in keeping their jobs and eyeing their next job.

We need to hold our elected officials accountable and not let them duck, dodge, deflect, rewrite and reframe the issues.

Yes, Robert E. Lee owned slaves. He never purchased them, they were inherited. While that doesn’t make things better, it is important to note that Lee freed his slaves in 1862, BEFORE the Civil War ended and BEFORE Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

In fact, after the South’s defeat, Lee supported President Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan.

Lee did the right thing, albeit belatedly. But, he did the right thing.

What did Robert E. Lee think about slavery? In an 1856 letter, Lee wrote:

“There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”  

One can certainly debate Lee, Beauregard (a New Orleans resident) and Davis’ influence on New Orleans and their “worthiness” to be commemorated with monuments.

But, that’s another discussion.

In a statement after the court ruling allowing the monument removal, Landrieu said,

"This win today will allow us to begin to turn a page on our divisive past and chart the course for a more inclusive future."

Excuse me?

How does taking down monuments  from the late 1800’s dedicated to one of America’s greatest military generals (Lee); a New Orleans resident nicknamed “Little Creole” who commanded the attack at  Ft. Sumter and officially began the Civil War (Beauregard); and a former Mississippi Congressman and Senator, Secretary of War, and the first (and only) President of the Confederate States, make New Orleans more inclusive?

Now, if you want to take down Beauregard’s monument because he was a major promoter of the Louisiana Lottery (from 1877 until it was closed in 1892 when the people of Louisiana’s opposition to government sponsored gambling grew), I may support you but the inclusive claim is nonsense.

Our history is our history, the good and the bad, and we must own it.

It is only by knowing our history that we can better prepare for our future.

When we can stop talking about race/gender/ethnicity/sexual orientation and all of the other garbage that drives division in our communities, then we can "chart the course for a more inclusive future". 

Until that day comes, fix the damn potholes Mitch.

Do YOUR job and let history speak for itself.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Yale, Like New Orleans, Tries To Rewrite History


“Your ordinary run-of-the mill historian will tell you that John C. Calhoun, having defended the bad and lost causes of state rights and slavery, deserves to rest forever in the dustbin of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. No American public figure after the generation of the Founding Fathers has more to say to later times than Calhoun.”

-          Clyde Wilson

 When I was a young boy, many aspired to attend an Ivy League school like Yale or Harvard. If you were lucky enough to get accepted into one of these prestigious universities, you were essentially set for life.

Now, Yale University finds itself in the crosshairs of the racial divide that our country is mired in.

And all because of a building.

After saying it wouldn’t rename Calhoun College, Yale officials capitulated to a growing clamor from misguided students protesting a policy that hasn’t existed in over 150 years – slavery.

Now, none of these students or their parents endured slavery, yet they are outraged by it nonetheless.

To be fair, I’ve never endured slavery either and, while I deplore the concept of slavery, I can’t pretend that it didn’t exist.

Yale University’s Calhoun College was named after John C. Calhoun, a Vice President under two administrations (one of only two Vice Presidents in our country’s history to do so), a Secretary of War and State, a Representative and Senator from South Carolina.

And, oh yeah, he was a slave owner in the late 1700s until his death in 1850.

“The danger in our system is that the general government, which represents the interests of the whole, may encroach on the states, which represent the peculiar and local interests, or that the latter may encroach on the former.

John C. Calhoun

As a Senator from a slave state, Calhoun vigorously fought for slavery and for state’s rights as did many Southerners (and some Northerners too) during that time. If you were a Senator from South Carolina (or any Southern state including Louisiana), that’s what you did in pre-Civil War America.

The Union next to our liberties the most dear. May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union.”

John C. Calhoun


In fact, 12 of our Presidents including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson and even Civil War hero U.S. Grant owned slaves.

In addition to Calhoun College, 7 other Yale colleges are also named after slave owners.

No reasonable person in this day and age would argue for slavery, but, simply because we are disgusted by something now doesn’t mean that we can ignore that it occurred or attempt to rewrite history.

We aren’t a perfect country. We’ve made mistakes along the way. But, let’s acknowledge and learn from our mistakes without desecrating and attempting to rewrite the story that is the United States of America.

It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty.”

John C. Calhoun

Was John C. Calhoun a bad person? He was clearly wrong for supporting slavery but does being a slave owner automatically disqualify a person or cause us to want to strike that person’s name from the history books?

Then a member of Congress, Calhoun was instrumental in rallying support for the War of 1812 which made a hero of Andrew Jackson and memorialized the Battle of New Orleans.

In 1824, Calhoun created the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He signed 40 treaties with Indian nations and was instrumental in the Western migration of Indians as America grew. While many at the time would have been happy to annihilate the Indians or forcefully remove them, Calhoun signed trade agreements with them.

In 1957, knowing Calhoun’s history, a Senate Committee headed by John F. Kennedy named Calhoun one of the five greatest U.S. Senators of all time.

“The Government of the absolute majority instead of the Government of the people is but the Government of the strongest interests; and when not efficiently checked, it is the most tyrannical and oppressive that can be devised.”
John C. Calhoun

The purpose of this post isn’t to give you a history lesson about John C. Calhoun but to show the misguided thinking of some in our society who believe that they can rename buildings, streets and schools and tear down monuments because they don’t agree with the history that these things represent.

There are towns and cities, schools and streets across the country named after John C. Calhoun.  In fact, there’s a “Calhoun Street” in New Orleans.

I probably shouldn’t have written that. Now some yahoo will want to change the street’s name just as the New Orleans City Council voted last year and Mayor Mitch Landrieu approved the removal of four historical monuments, including three that commemorated Confederate Civil War leaders.

Yeah, trying to run from and rewrite history will ease racial tensions.  

There is often, in the affairs of government, more efficiency and wisdom in non-action than in
action.”

John C. Calhoun


Let me show how you can take rewriting history to a whole new level.

The Western Hemisphere was named America by a German cartographer, Martin Waldseemuller, to honor Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.

Now, I’m sure we can all agree that the Holocaust (instigated by a German) was wrong.

We can probably also agree that early Romans used slaves as gladiators and made them fight to the death as entertainment. Using anyone to kill someone for amusement is wrong.

So, since the Germans and Italians did bad things, let’s rename America, right?

Ok, here’s another example, closer to home:

The City of Kenner was once three plantations owned by the Kenner family. The plantations had slaves; thus, expect protestors soon to demand that the City change its name.

As I mentioned, Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner. I guess we can also expect protestors to demand that we change the name of Jefferson Parish.

Look, we can all agree that slavery and racism, bigotry in any form whether it’s based upon gender, ethnicity, race, religion or any factor is wrong, but we can’t deny that they existed and still exist.

We ought not to forget that the government, through all its departments, judicial as well as others, is administered by delegated and responsible agents; and that the power which really controls, ultimately, all the movements, is not in the agents, but those who elect or appoint them.”

John C. Calhoun

Did you read that Mike Yenni?

Slavery was evil. The Indian massacres and forced relocation was horrific. The Japanese internment during World War II was clearly flawed (oops, there goes Roosevelt Blvd. in Kenner). Denying voting rights to anyone that was not a white male landowner goes against the fundamental core values that our country was founded upon. Racism and gender inequality remain huge issues for our country.

The U.S. is a flawed country. We’re a work-in-progress. But, even with our flaws, we are still the most diverse country in the history of world and still the Land of Opportunity.

While a judge stepped in to stop Mitch Landrieu and then-Council President Jason Williams from removing the statues in New Orleans, no one can stop Yale from renaming Calhoun College.

The bottom line is – while we can abhor history, we must learn from it. We can’t rewrite it.

Yale University should be smart enough to know that even if the leaders in New Orleans aren’t.