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.


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