In Kenner, Mayor Mike Yenni Can’t Seem To Get It Right

With his latest “article” in the Kenner Star, Mayor Mike Yenni continues his pattern of making ill-advised and just plain WRONG moves.

Last December, after Mayor Yenni announced his proposal to Double the property taxes in Kenner rather than cut the size of Kenner government, I wrote an editorial titled “Kenner Mayor Making All The Wrong Moves”.

In the Editorial, I criticized Mayor Yenni for not cutting government spending and waste in Kenner and for growing the size of Kenner government while he was CAO to former Mayor Ed Muniz.

After the Editorial ran, Mayor Yenni summoned me to his office because I “didn’t understand how government worked” and the Mayor wanted to correct some of my comments.

Mayor Yenni did not, and could not, dispute the fact that as CAO he helped former Mayor Muniz expand the Executive Pay Plan (which the Louisiana Attorney General has now dubbed “Illegal”) and cost Kenner residents over $1 Million in the past 5 years alone, or that during his first 6 months in office, Mayor Yenni laid off 6 employees while hiring 41 employees. Nor could Mayor Yenni dispute the fact that the Kenner City Charter, revised in 2008 when he was CAO, mandates 7 City Hall Departments and the City of Kenner has 11 City Hall Departments and several sub-departments. But, of course, Mayor Yenni, as CAO for four years and now Mayor, had nothing to do with the growth of Kenner government. Right.

Now, to be honest, I have been critical of Mayor Yenni. I was critical of former Mayor Muniz and former Mayor Phil Capitano. I have also been critical of the Kenner City Council when I thought their ideas or policies were wrong. I don’t dislike any of these men and women as people, and I respect their service to the City of Kenner. However, I can be critical of their ideas and their policies while still respecting them.

Again, this is about ideas and policies, not people. It never has been for me and, hopefully, never will be.

At the end of the Kenner City Council meetings, as is the case with the Jefferson Parish Council and other governmental bodies, there is a point where citizens can address the council and talk about issues for 3 minutes. Most of the citizens are orderly and respectful, make their points and discuss their issues. At times, one of more council member will address the citizen and clarify their position or provide them with an update.

I have spoken frequently at the Kenner Council meetings. While I attend almost every meeting, I don’t speak at every meeting. I only speak when there is an issue that I am “For” or “Against”.

In the past, Mayor Yenni and many of his staff have stayed until the end of the Council meetings to listen to the comments by the citizens. However, recently, Mayor Yenni when it is time for citizens to address the Council, the Mayor will stand up and motion to his staff. They, along with the Mayor, proceed to leave the Council chambers.

While it is certainly true that Mayor Yenni and his staff are not required to stay until the end of the Council meetings, other than the fact that the Mayor doesn’t want to hear any criticism from citizens, there really isn’t a good reason for him to not stay. It should also be noted that other Mayors and their staff, along with Parish President John Young and his staff, stay until the end of their respective meetings.

Mayor Yenni claims to have an “open-door policy.” I know this to be true. Last Wednesday, the day before the Council meeting, I met with the Mayor for almost an hour.

I did not write about this meeting on ClickJefferson.com. I did not record the meeting or take any notes. I wanted to have a casual conversation with Mayor Yenni and let him know that, while I opposed some of his ideas, I wanted to work with the Mayor to help move the city forward. That has always been my goal regardless of whom was Mayor.

Mayor Yenni agreed that we could, and should, work together to improve Kenner. Mayor Yenni told me that he was happy we had the conversation and hoped that we could begin a dialogue and converse more regularly.

That’s why I was so disappointed with Mayor Yenni’s “article” in the Kenner Star.

Now, while it is printed on newsprint, the Kenner Star does not deserve the title of “newspaper.” The Kenner Star claims to be “Kenner’s Community Newspaper” and, while the Kenner Star can claim to be anything that it wants to be, it is clearly not “Kenner’s Community Newspaper.”

Every month, the Kenner Star is mainly comprised of “articles” contributed by their advertisers. While there is nothing wrong with this business model, most “newspapers” and other print media, along with Television and Radio Stations, clearly label what is “advertising” and what is “editorial” content. I’m sure you’ve heard the disclaimer on your television or radio “The views expressed by the following program are not necessarily those of the management”.

Many print outlets accept “advertorials”, or articles written by advertisers. Almost all print outlets clearly label the “advertorials” as “Advertising”. The Kenner Star does not.

In a Times/Picayune article, Kenner CAO Mike Quigley said that the City didn’t pay for Mayor Yenni’s column. Really? That’s the best that you can come up with? Are we to believe that, if the City did not spend $30,000 in advertising, the Kenner Star would give the Mayor of Kenner and other officials editorial space and, the Kenner Star since it’s “Kenner’s Community Newspaper” invites community opinion and comment from non-advertisers?

In fact, when an Officer of Citizens For A Better Kenner contacted the Kenner Star to ask if they would print a response from the group, the answer was “We don’t have an Editorial Section. We don’t have a Letters To The Editor Section. The only way that you can get a response printed is if you purchase advertising.”

So, purchase advertising and we’ll print your response.

I guess it’s OK for the Mayor of Kenner to criticize citizens in the Kenner Star because the City buys advertising, but the Kenner Star won’t allow citizens to respond to that criticism unless we buy advertising too? How is that fair?

Now, to be fair, ClickJefferson.com has run articles written by our advertising clients. However, there is a clear difference between ClickJefferson.com and the Kenner Star. ClickJefferson.com has never used editorial space as an inducement to get advertising, and we never will.

If an advertiser wants to contribute an article to ClickJefferson.com, we review the content and, if we think it is of value to you, we print it. We never tell a potential advertiser, “If you sign a contract with us, we’ll run your articles”. It doesn’t work like that here.

Also, to be fair, I have never claimed that ClickJefferson.com is the pantheon of journalistic excellence. I’m not a journalist. I founded ClickJefferson.com to provide news and information about Jefferson Parish after Hurricane Katrina and as a way that Jefferson Parish residents could find out about Jefferson Parish businesses. We’re not here to compete with the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune or even the Times/Picayune. Clearly, the Kenner Star isn’t either.

In addition, whenever I have written an Editorial on ClickJefferson.com, I have listed our email addresses and asked for comments both FOR and AGAINST. Look at the end of this Editorial.

Also, ClickJefferson.com has often invited people with different viewpoints to comment and offered them free, unedited space.

In fact, when I was critical of Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Sheng and Sheriff Newell Normand regarding their positions on Fat City, I contacted them and offered them free space to tell their side. Both refused.

In the period leading up to the April 2nd tax vote, I offered Mayor Yenni and KPD Chief Caraway, space in ClickJefferson.com to present their side. Again, both refused.

But, let’s get back to Mayor Yenni’s article.

The City of Kenner pays the Kenner Star $30,000 for advertising. In return, with a “nod and a wink”, the Kenner Star allows the Mayor and other city officials to write “articles”. Some of these articles are informative. Some are simply political statements.

Mayor Yenni’s article in the June Kenner Star was 100% political.

In the “article”, Mayor Yenni spends over 700 words bashing citizens that address the Kenner Council at the end of the Council meeting, when he isn’t even there.

It is ironic that, Mayor Yenni is opposed to citizens that speak out publicly at a Council meeting, but chooses to criticize those citizens publicly, in a “newspaper” that prints his “articles” and gives the Mayor a public bully pulpit because Kenner taxpayers pay for advertising.

As I mentioned, the day before the Kenner Star piece was distributed, I met with Mayor Yenni. He had every opportunity to criticize me for my comments at Council meetings, but, instead of taking that opportunity to discuss the situation with me face-to-face, Mayor Yenni would rather spend taxpayer dollars to criticize myself and others who are trying to move the city forward.

The entire point of my meeting was to see if Mayor Yenni and I could work together to improve Kenner. After reading Mayor Yenni’s words in the Kenner Star, clearly that is not what he wants.

In the “article”, Mayor Yenni talks about “a dozen or so well-practiced but familiar mouths that appear from meeting to meeting”. The Mayor also says that he doesn’t “appreciate the antics of a few who degrade our city and our government.” Mayor Yenni says that “we are hearing from a core group of constant complainers who seem choreographed to create chaos” and clams that members of the Kenner Council are directing citizens. “Bashing the mayor and/or his administrative staff has degenerated into a common theme of these political marionettes whose strings are pulled by political operatives.”

Really? Everyone that disagrees with the Mayor is a puppet? Is that really what Mayor Yenni thinks about citizens that take time out of their lives to attend Council meetings and wait sometimes for 3-4 hours just so they can talk for 3 minutes? Really?

Mayor Yenni says that the citizen input section of the Council meeting “is not a time for political maneuvering or territorial bickering.” “I do not believe that it is served when a select few choose to abuse the process,” Mayor Yenni said.

Since I am often one of those “select few”, I guess Mayor Yenni is talking about me. I don’t know for certain. I asked the Mayor but he hasn’t answered me. I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

If you’ve ever been to a Kenner City Council meeting or watched it on KTV, you know that I have never attacked the Mayor, his staff or the Council personally. And I’m not alone. Many citizens who wish to get engaged in our government, and it is OUR government, are respectful and sincere in their comments.

The Mayor says, “Anyone with legitimate questions, concerns or suggestions can expect to get the information they seek in a normal business fashion.”

On Friday, after reading Mayor Yenni’s “article” again, I sent the Mayor an email asking him to clarify his comments and asking if his comments were directed at me or any member or members of Citizens For A Better Kenner. My email was sent at approximately 9:30am on Friday morning.

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon and I have not heard from Mayor Yenni. The Mayor knows my email address and he has my cell phone number. In fact, Mayor Yenni called me a week ago while I was driving to Florida to visit my mother. If you’re wondering, Mayor Yenni wanted to express his displeasure over the fact that I was opposed to his plan to close 3 playgrounds. As I mentioned to the Mayor, I think that closing playgrounds, even underutilized playgrounds, should be a last resort, especially when the City is budgeting over $177,000 for the Travel and Professional Development of its highly paid Directors and Assistant Directors. But that’s another Editorial.

At the last Council meeting, the Kenner City Council approved Mayor Yenni’s budget. Prior to approving the budget, the Council voted to:

– Delete one of the Mayor’s staff positions (a person that recently retired anyway) and return that money to keep the Lincoln Manor playground open

– Direct $1 Million from the Pontchartrain Center insurance settlement to the Kenner Fire Department to purchase 2 new Fire Trucks and new air packs

– Direct an additional $600,000 to the Kenner Police Department over and above the budget

And, they could do all of this after the voters of Kenner overwhelmingly defeated Mayor Yenni’s proposal to double property taxes and after the Kenner Star devoted pages to telling us that the Mayor’s proposal was a good thing. Of course, the Kenner Star didn’t print 1 line in opposition to the Mayor’s proposal.

So, let’s quickly summarize:

– Mayor Yenni proposes to double property taxes. He says that if we don’t, he will have to make cuts that “everyone will feel”. WRONG.

– Chief Caraway and the Mayor say that if the new taxes aren’t approved for the Kenner Police Department, they will have to cut police services and lay off officers. WRONG.

– Mayor Yenni’s handpicked Streamlining Task Force says that Kenner needs to close 6 playgrounds. WRONG

– Mayor Yenni corrects the Task Force and says that Kenner must close 3 playgrounds. WRONG.

– Mayor Yenni uses taxpayer supported media to criticize citizens that use their First Amendment right to address the Kenner City Council. WRONG.

– Mayor Yenni says that, “Until the undignified practice stops, I will continue leaving council meetings.” WRONG.

They say that 2 WRONGS don’t make a RIGHT, so what does 6 WRONGS make?

Publisher’s Note: Walt Bennetti, the owner of ClickJefferson.com,is President of Citizens For A Better Kenner, a citizens group devoted to improving the quality of life in Kenner.

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