Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reversing Course (Again) Yenni Formally Fills An Unfilled Position

After the people of Kenner resoundingly defeated his plan to double property taxes, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni convened a hand-picked “Streamlining Budget Committee” headed by former Assessor-turned-Blogger Lawrence Chehardy.

The feeling in Kenner was that Chehardy, one of Yenni’s most ardent cheerleaders, would deflect heat from Yenni in cutting Kenner’s bloated budget. After all, Yenni could simply claim that his “independent” committee recommended these cuts and he ‘reluctantly’ went along with them.

Anyone with any real knowledge of Yenni knew that, just as with his Economic Development Committee and the 2030 Plan, the Streamlining Budget Committee was pre-fed the cuts. In fact, at the Press Conference announcing the Streamlining Committee’s report, several members of the committee hadn’t even been consulted about the cuts or the final report. An hour before the Press Conference, one member told me, “We’ll both know what’s in the report when it’s released.”

So much for ‘independence’.

During the lead up to the Tax vote, many Kenner citizens, myself included, pointed out specific items that Yenni could and should cut from Kenner City Government prior to asking the voters to approve his plan to double property taxes and growing government.

One of those cuts involved eliminating the position of Public Information Officer (PIO). The PIO’s primary role was to write press releases for the city and many believed that this was a part-time position at best, while others believed the position could be absorbed by existing staff.

The Streamlining Budget Committee recommended that the PIO position be eliminated.

Rather than lose a political appointee, Yenni created the position of Assistant Director of the Clerk of Court. Yenni attempted to rationalize the position by saying that there was so much work in the Clerk of Court office that there was a need for a highly experienced manager to come in and take charge and assist the Clerk of Court.

In typical Yenni fashion, instead of finding a “highly experienced manager”, he simply moved the old PIO over and he kept writing press releases while “assisting” the Clerk of Court.

After the former PIO-turned Assistant Director of the Clerk of Court retired, Yenni hired a former New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter. Bob Ross, to fill that position. Again, someone with no experience. However, like his predecessor, he was skilled at writing press releases.

During his first Administration and continuing on through the re-election campaign and his Inauguration, Yenni continued to tout the ‘fact’ that he cut 135 positions from Kenner City Government however he never mentioned his musical chairs with his political appointees.

The truth is Yenni NEVER cut 135 full-time positions. Many of the slots that he claims credit for cutting were left unfilled during the Muniz Administration, which in the aftermath of Katrina, added needed employees for the maintenance and cleanup of Kenner.

Still more cuts that Yenni claims credit for were part-time Rivertown tour guides.

In 2010, when Yenni took office, the City of Kenner had 655 full-time equivalent employees. In the 2013-2014 budget, the City lists 621 full-time equivalent employees.

For a chart, please click here and scroll down to Page 139.

Were there cuts? Sure, but 34 doesn’t equal 135.

What is always swept under the rug are the politically appointed positions that Yenni fills or creates to add to Kenner’s top-heavy administration.

In 2010, Yenni replaced the Internal Auditor with someone who had no prior governmental oversight experience. Subsequently, she has been promoted to Deputy CAO and the position of Internal Auditor has remained unfilled for nearly 2 years.

Despite Jefferson Parish adding an Inspector General and calls by many in Kenner to use the IG to provide oversight in Kenner particularly in light of the $42 Million bond debt incurred by the 2030 Plan, Yenni has resisted utilizing any independent oversight.

Instead, buried within the new budget is the filling of the Internal Auditor position. This position will report to the Mayor, thus it will have ZERO independence.And, knowing Yenni, the person filling the position will have ZERO experience.

Back to the present, and again swept under the rug with no mention in either The Times-Picayune or The Advocate (the City’s new “official journal”), is the report that the current Assistant Director of the Clerk of Court (and chief Press Release Writer) Bob Ross is filling the unfilled, and thought to be eliminated, position of Public Information Officer, reversing what the Streamlining Budget Committee recommended and Yenni agreed to a few short years ago.

At least Mr. Ross will be back in his element full-time. But does he, or anyone for that matter in a city as small as Kenner, deserve to make writing press releases a full-time job?

And, what does he do besides write press releases?

We already know that, unless he knows the questions in advance or is feeding a story to the media, that Yenni doesn’t speak to reporters preferring instead to issue written statements from his political consultant Greg Buisson.

Of course, if I had as much to hide personally and professionally as Yenni does, I might not want to speak to reporters either.

But, why this reversal? Why does this position suddenly need to be filled especially when Ross, and his predecessor, were already doing the work? And why was there no mention of this in the media?

I’d ask the Mayor but he doesn’t like answering my questions.