Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kenner Councilman Carroll Pushes Back At Yenni’s District 1 Shakedown

At Thursday’s Kenner City Council meeting, the Council will vote on a plan proposed by Quigley, and approved by Mayor Yenni, to build a new Kenner Food Bank to replace the current Food Bank after Yenni approved selling the land and certain District 1 streets to the East Jefferson Levee District. The EJLD is proposing a new headquarters in South Kenner to consolidate operations.

The EJLD proposal has met with strong community opposition after the EJLD tried to purchase streets that would severely limit access to historic cemeteries and discussed a plan to force residents from their homes if buyout negotiations were not consummated to the satisfaction of the EJLD.

In the letter, Carroll also takes aim at Quigley’s condescending tone.            

“And while you believe it may be somewhat complex for some of my new council colleagues, who are a novice to this projects it’s not that from my vantage point. Not only have I been involved in (the buy-out/new food bank) during my entire tenure on the Council, I have also lived within the vacant properties and the conditions endured by not only me but also my fellow constituents,” Carroll wrote.

“While the good people of District 1 and myself are supportive of the EJLD project and the new Food Bank we are not supportive at any cost ($$$).”

Carroll then goes on to specify funds that were dedicated to District 1 but will now be used to construct the new Food Bank, including
-          $64k that would have been used to purchase the Annie Washington Center
-          $42k from the CDBG budget Neighborhood Revitalization and Rental Housing Improvements
-          $60k from CDBG Regular Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program
-          $14k from CDBG First-Time Homebuyers Program
-          $84k from the sale of the Worth St. Food Bank
-          $180k from the sale of the Toy Train Museum
-          For a Grand total of: $444,000.00

Councilman Carroll rightly asks, “HOW MUCH MORE ARE WE REQUIRED TO GIVE?”

In addition, Quigley also proposed the sale of more streets in District 1 to fund the new Food Bank, whether it’s a Chevy or a Cadillac.

Councilman Carroll also reiterates his positions on the continued sale of streets and use of District 1 funds.

“While I have discussed this with you, the Mayor and the EJLD on more than one occasion, I think it is only fair to state to my fellow council members two (2) of the paramount positions of the people of District 1 as it pertains to the Food Bank and EJLD project.
            We are not supportive of selling any streets (Alton, Warren and 4th) that are adjacent to the Historic African American Belle Grove and Love and Charity Cemeteries.

-          Any proceeds from the sale of ANY streets that are sold that are not adjacent to the aforementioned properties are to be used for the sole purpose of improving infrastructure, drainage or other projects that will improve the Quality of Life in District 1.

In closing, I will not be supportive of any additional funds coming from any projects, programs or coffers of the People of District 1. The proposed new Food Bank is a “City of Kenner” food bank and not a District 1 Food Bank and should be supported by all.”

Carroll’s point is well-founded: the new Kenner Food Bank should be paid for through City of Kenner funds – not just District 1 funds. In fact, whatever the cost of the new Food Bank, whether it’s a Chevy or a Cadillac, if Mayor Yenni can’t find the funds in his borrowed stash of 2030 Plan money, District 1 should be obligated for 1/5th of the cost. The remaining funds arbitrarily obligated by Quigley (like it’s “His” money) should be used on District 1 projects.

But, that probably makes too much sense.

We are talking about Kenna after all.

The Kenner City Council will discuss Yenni's plan to fund the new Food Bank's construction at Thursday night's meeting. The meeting begins at 5pm in the Council Chambers. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

After Borrowing Millions For His 2030 Plan, Kenner Mayor Yenni Wants To Shakedown District 1 Residents To Pay For Food Bank

It’s no surprise that I opposed Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni’s 2030 Plan to attempt to reinvent Kenner with $42 Million (plus another $17 Million in interest) in borrowed money. Sure Kenner could use a facelift but, borrowing Millions and tying up Sales Tax Revenue for decades without any research showing that the 2030 Plan will actually revitalize Kenner and provide real Economic Development was foolhardy in my opinion.

I was also vehemently opposed to Yenni taking on the largest debt in Kenner’s history without a vote of the people not to mention that some parts of Kenner, including some of Kenner’s neediest areas, would be virtually shut out of the 2030 Plan proceeds.

Case in point: Council District 1, where Kenner was founded.

When the 2030 Plan was announced, I called District 1 Councilman Gregory Carroll since there was little in the then $27 Million in new projects (which has since ballooned to $37 Million) for District 1. In fact, the largest line item at over $12 Million would be spent on Williams Blvd., which is a State Highway.

I told Councilman Carroll that I would help him organize a Bake Sale so we could purchase a sign to put at the corner of Williams and Airline Highway telling travelers from Armstrong Airport that “Rivertown Is This Way ------>”.

Unfortunately, while I was joking, that would be more than residents of District 1 would get under Yenni’s plan.

Last year, the East Jefferson Levee District announced that they wanted to consolidate operations in Kenner.

Great, right?  

Not if you’re a resident of South Kenner.

To accomplish the move, the EJLD wanted to buy some streets in South Kenner and limit access to historic cemeteries.

After a meeting at the Council Chambers that was filled with angry Kenner residents and a City Council meeting that brought some residents to tears and vague assurances that their homes wouldn’t be expropriated by the EJLD, a compromise was reached between the EJLD and Councilman Carroll – a few streets would be sold but access to the cemeteries would continue.

But, despite the apparent compromise, the Yenni Administration still issued a veiled threat to South Kenner residents:

The four-street compromise plan might look good for now. But the other three streets -- Warren, Alton Street and Fourth -- are not permanently off the docket, said Kenner City Planning Director Jay Hebert, who recommended approval of the sale of the other four streets: parts of George Street, Hollandey Street and Centanni Lane between the Mississippi River levee and Jefferson Highway, as well as a long stretch of Worth Street.

"The understanding is that someday down the road, they could meet to discuss those issues further," Hebert said.

Are some of those chickens now coming home to roost in another Yenni Shakedown of South Kenner residents?

“A Chevy or a Cadillac?”

If I told you that you could have a new Chevrolet or a new Cadillac, and it wouldn’t cost you anything, chances are that many of you would chose the Cadillac.

With all due respect to Chevy owners and Car Dealers, it’s human nature.

When my Grandfather sold the family restaurant and bar and retired, the first thing that he did was buy a new Cadillac. After working hard almost every day of his life, he deserved it. He was so proud the first time that he took me for a ride in it, he was almost bursting.

Now, Mike Yenni (in the form of his “bad cop” alter ego, Kenner CAO Mike Quigley), is making a similar offer to Kenner – do you want a “Chevy or a Cadillac” for your new Food Bank?

On the face of it, we all salivate and say “Cadillac, please”.

But, as with everything that Mike Yenni touches, things aren’t always what they seem and, like many transactions, you need to read the fine print.

After putting the proposal for a new Kenner Food Bank out for bid (remember that the EJLD is taking the land that the current Food Bank is on and demolishing the building), the lowest bidder was still much higher than the City expected.

In a letter obtained by ClickJefferson.com, Quigley, while touting the $25 Million investment that the EJLD is making in Kenner (which, by the way, the City of Kenner will be receiving ZERO in property taxes – but let’s skip over that point for a moment), Quigley bemoans the economics of the new Food Bank:

“A look at the bids shows that all responsive bidders came in much higher than expected. Members of the Administration, together with the architect on the project, Meyer Engineers, came up with a number of deductions that lowered the bid contract amount to $550,965.”


$550,000 for a new Food Bank? And, the original low bid came in at $652,000!

Like the proverbial “As Seen On TV” huckster that he is in real life, Quigley says, “Wait – there’s more!”

In ‘STEP 2 – CHEVY OR CADILLAC?’ Quigley gives the City Council three options:

“You have a number of options: accept only the $652,000 base bid as is; accept the $652,000 base bid and approve change Order No. 1 (reducing the contract amount to $550,965), or accept the base bid (with or without change Order No. 1) and include up to three alternatives.”

Alternative No. 1 includes a loading dock, an additional driveway and an overhead door. This will add another $76,650 to the cost. For those playing at home, we’re either up to $627,615 or $728,650.

Alternative No. 2 includes additional concrete and the electrical services that are necessary to accommodate a refrigerated storage area outside of the Food Bank. This will add another $32,890 to the cost so, if we include Alternative No. 1, we’re up to $660,415 or $761,500.

Alternative No. 3 adds more parking. I mean, after all, the new Food Bank (with the addition of perishable goods in the new giant outdoor refrigerator) will serve more Kenner residents, right? The cost of more parking is only $36,330, so, added to Alternatives 1 and 2 we’re at $696,745 or $797,830.

$700,000 – 800,000 for a new Food Bank because the EJLD wants the land that the current Food Bank is on (but isn’t giving Kenner the money to build a new Food Bank).

And, that’s before the inevitable Change Orders (just look at The Jefferson Performing Arts Center’s budget – and it’s still not built).

Did I mention that the current Food Bank (which is in really bad shape) is only worth $84,000?

Now, to be fair, Alternative Nos. 1 and 2 are required if the City is to take advantage of a very generous offer from Crossroad Center for “regular tractor-trailer loads of food” per Quigley.

In addition, Quigley gushes, “That will ensure that the new Food Bank shelves will be fully stocked.”

Later in the letter, Quigley makes an even more audacious claim: “Because of the generosity of Crossroads Center, our new and larger Food Bank will be fully stocked with food – more so than ever in the past. The alternates will allow us to handle and distribute that food more efficiently, ultimately allowing the Kenner Food Bank to serve more members of our community.”

Quigley didn’t mention it but that also means ending the need for the phony Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts that were supposed to raise money for the Food Bank.

While I, for one, would certainly be happy to end the hypocrisy of Yenni’s Prayer Breakfasts, it might be cheaper to open a grocery store, stock it once a week, and give away the products inside.

“Everybody form a single line and the first 100 customers get to keep everything you can fit into a basket”.

So, if the money isn’t coming from the EJLD (which can’t, by law, contribute to something that only benefits the residents of one community, in this case, Kenner), where is the money coming from for a new Food Bank?

Ahh, here’s where it gets really interesting.

Quigley spells it all out in his letter.

By using old money from 2007 CDBG grants that were for land for the Annie Washington Center, taking money from the 2010 CDBG fund that was supposed to go to “Neighborhood Revitalization and Rental Housing Improvements”, and taking more money from the 2013 CDBG fund that was supposed to go to the “Regular Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program”, the City can come up with $179,122.

Now, mind you, most, if not all of this money was intended to go to low income Kenner residents anyway which are disproportionately in District 1 – meaning that District 1 residents were supposed to get this money anyway.

“But wait – there’s more!” Quigley says.

“Another source of funding would come from the sale of streets to the EJLD.”

Excuse me?

What about the compromise that the EJLD made with Councilman Carroll to not purchase more streets in 
South Kenner?

Why is the City of Kenner selling ANYTHING to a government entity that will provide no economic impact or property taxes to the City of Kenner, but use our roads and streets (the ones that they don’t purchase anyway) and cause more expense to Kenner taxpayers?

"But wait - there's more!"

After all of his financial machinations, Quigley miraculously finds a way to get the new Food Bank funded without any of the Millions hoarded by Yenni or any money from any other District.

“There are two other sources of revenue that could be applied to the Food Bank. One is the $91,000 received from the sale of Blair Street. The second is $180,000 from the proceeds of the sale of the Toy Train Museum. That brings the subtotal to $704,240 – just above the goal of $695,835, and just enough to pay for the Food Bank and all three alternates, after the cost savings from the proposed Change Order No. 1 are taken into account.”

And, without touching the 2030 Plan stockpile – imagine that?

The key takeaway here is that Quigley is spending money that could and should go to District 1 projects, on a Food Bank that will serve ALL of Kenner (and more of Kenner, by the way).

Shouldn’t money designated for District 1 go to projects that benefit District 1 and not a single project that benefits all of Kenner? Isn’t that what the 2030 Plan money should be for? The City just spent $512,000 renovating the Code Enforcement office and is spending another $1Million on some flower beds on Williams Blvd. leading into the Treasure Chest Casino but Mayor Yenni can’t find the money for a new Food Bank without shaking down the residents of South Kenner again and selling more of our city to a government entity that provides little economic benefit to the city?

District 1, like most of Kenner, has severe drainage and sewerage issues. The unemployment rate is higher than other Kenner Council Districts, yet Yenni is putting ZERO Dollars into creating new jobs in South Kenner or training the under and unemployed.

Rather than spend District 1 money on District 1, Yenni wants to shakedown District 1 residents for every Nickel. If you live in District 1, it’s not “Your Money” it’s “Yenni’s Money”.

Other District Councilmen get to spend their dedicated money on their Districts, often getting even more money from the At-Large Councilmen.

Yet, Yenni and Quigley believe that District 1 Councilman Carroll should just give the city a blank check and be happy that Kenner is getting a new Food Bank, whether it’s a Chevy, Cadillac, Hyundai, or Toyota. 

Residents in other Districts would never stand by and let Yenni scam them time and time again like he does to District 1 residents. From trying to close the Lincoln Manor Playground to blocking access to cemeteries housing their departed loved ones, and now using their money for a Food Bank that gives any deserving Kenner resident food.

I’d say that “I’m shocked” but I think you know my sarcasm by now.

Before someone writes in and tells me that I’m “bitter” or “cynical”, the truth is that I think it’s great that Kenner is getting a new Food Bank and, if we can afford it, a “Cadillac” Food Bank at that.

But it isn’t great that the burden for this “Cadillac” is being put squarely on the shoulders of District 1 residents when South Kenner badly needs every available dollar the City can spare and, while the need may be greater in District 1, the Food Bank serves all Kenner residents, not just South Kenner residents.

That being said, since the 2030 Plan budget has ballooned from $29 Million in new projects to $37 Million, and since the State and Federal Governments (along with the Regional Planning Commission) are paying for improvements on Williams Blvd., improvements that Yenni sold to the people of Kenner as a reason for taking on the largest debt in Kenner’s history, shouldn’t the City shoulder the cost of a ‘Kenner’ Food Bank?

The cynic in me says that this proposal by Yenni and Quigley is about 2 things: taking money from other projects that could benefit District 1 residents and more contracts for Yenni's campaign contributors (who, thanks to Yenni, are all driving Cadillacs and Mercedes and not Chevys by the way). 

But, I am smiling that now the proceeds from Yenni’s Prayer Breakfasts and Sippin’ With Santa can hopefully go to another worthy cause since the Food Bank will be stocked to the brim.

Perhaps a sign at the corner of Williams and Airline saying, “Rivertown Is This Way ------>”.

Well, it’s just a thought…

And, everyone knows how Mike Yenni loves my suggestions.

The Yenni/Quigley “Screw District 1 Residents Plan” will be voted on at Thursday’s Council Meeting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

T-P Reports On Williams Blvd. Project – As Usual, Yenni Tries To Claim Credit For Everything

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
-          Nazi Propagandist Joseph Goebbels

I know that he won the election but really, how long are we going to have to put up with Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni patting himself on the back for everything that is happening in Kenner and lying to make himself look important?

Cutting 135 positions – FALSE (34 full-time equivalent positions have been eliminated in Yenni’s first 4 years).

Reducing Kenner’s budget by $8.5 Million – FALSE (Kenner’s budget has grown under Yenni).

All of the road work done on the “Paths To Progress” Program – FALSE (the money came from the Regional Planning Commission).

And now, improving pedestrian traffic on Williams Blvd. and attempting to claim that it’s his idea and part of Yenni’s Grand 2030 Plan – FALSE, FALSE, FALSE.

In an article on Nola.com that reads like the City of Kenner’s Press Release (written by ex-newspaper reporter and new Public Information Officer Bob Ross), the implication is that, making Williams Blvd. more “pedestrian-friendly” (a concept that I’m not sure can be done regardless of how much money is thrown at the problem), is Yenni’s brainchild and integral to Yenni’s 2030 Plan to “revitalize” Kenner.

Corridor redevelopment is one aspect of "Kenner 2030," which is Yenni's $37 million capital improvement plan. 

The original version of the article, which was later modified, also alluded to Yenni’s inauguration speech.

Here’s a link to the City of Kenner’s Press Release.I for one, thank God that Kenner has a new Public Information Officer. How did we ever get along without one?

The facts are that the bulk of the money for this project is coming from the State and Federal Governments – not the $42 Million that Yenni borrowed without voter approval. Yenni “budgeted” over $12 Million of the original amount for Williams Blvd. improvements BEFORE seeking additional State and Federal monies. Williams Blvd., after all, is a state highway.

In addition to the bulk of the money coming from the State and Federal Governments, and not from Yenni's borrowed stash, the first phase of the project was contracted by the State DOTD, and not Kenner.

So, since the money is coming from the State and Federal Governments, where is that $12 Million that was budgeted going Mayor Yenni? Was that all just a ruse played on unsuspecting Kenner residents to garner support for your flawed 2030 Plan?

Second, the original impetus for improving Williams Blvd. came about through then District 2 Councilman Joe Stagni after he took office in 2006 (4 years BEFORE Yenni took office as Mayor).

Stagni actually went to then-Parish President and currently inmate #2234-034 Aaron Broussard and then-JP Council President Tom Capella, to seek funding for the 2008 study of Williams Blvd.

You’ll remember that Stagni, along with former District 5 Councilman Kent Denapolis, were excluded from Kenner’s Inauguration Ceremony where Yenni publicly lauded other outgoing elected officials while not mentioning Denapolis’ 10 years of official service to the City and Stagni’s 8 years.

Of course, at his inauguration Yenni did find the time to parade former Assessor-Turned-Blogger Lawrence Chehardy, Registrar of Voters Dennis DeMarco, and former Orleans Parish Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson across the stage and dote on them like a fawning schoolgirl. Clarkson, it should be noted, while a Democrat, shared something with Yenni that Stagni and Denapolis didn’t – the desire to continue burdening the people with the extension of the Crescent City Connection toll for another 20 years. 

Yenni obviously never learned that Leadership 101 demands that you share credit, especially with your enemies.

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” Don Corleone said in The Godfather. Of course, Mario Puzo stole that line from Machiavelli who stole it from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, which dates back to around 500 BC.

Yenni, who fancies himself a history buff, obviously never learned some fundamental lessons of Leadership or Statesmanship.

And then there’s the question of redundant studies and the need to make Williams Blvd. pedestrian-friendly at all.

Even T-P Columnist Jim Varney wrote about the multiple studies undertaken on Williams Blvd. dating back to 2008, which predated Yenni as Mayor.

One of the latest focal points in the ongoing feud is $420,000 going to "a study on ways to make a busy stretch of Williams Boulevard safer for pedestrians and traffic." At first blush, that seems like a pricey study, the cost of which will be eaten by state taxpayers (Williams Boulevard is a state road).

For one thing, the study will cover only 2.5 miles and even that distance is exaggerated because Williams Boulevard doesn't have much of a problem heading toward the river from Veterans Boulevard and really no problem at all once traffic thins out and a generous grassy median emerges at West Metairie Avenue.

For another thing, some of the area under review - running from Airline Drive to 33rd Street - has already been studied. That work, which Kenner's transportation consultant Sharon Leader said was completed in 2008, cost $80,000.

The money for that 2008 study came from the efforts of then-Councilman Stagni - Mike Yenni had NOTHING to do with it.

Varney went on to question the validity of spending ANY money to “study” pedestrian improvements on Williams Blvd.

Then, too, there is the question of just how many people are foolhardy or unlucky enough to have to cross Williams Boulevard on foot, especially in that congested stretch from Veterans Boulevard to 33rd Street.

At lunch time one day this week, a grand total of five pedestrians were spotted in that corridor.

Now, to be fair, The Advocate, Kenner’s “Official Journal”,did nothing to correct or elaborate on the situation, and they also didn’t note Stagni’s involvement in the process.

I guess Yenni has learned another lesson from Joseph Goebbels:

“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”

Glad that I’m just a lowly Blogger.

You know what they say Mayor Yenni: You’re going to break your arm if you keep patting yourself on the back.

And, unlike your bout of stress-induced binge eating, you can’t blame that one on me.

But, I'm sure you'll try.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Metairie Gets A Fresh Market And A Cheesecake Factory – What Does Kenner Get? A Hookah Bar

As someone who has started and operated several businesses, some successful – some not so successful, I must confess that I love the American entrepreneurial spirit.

I tell everyone who will listen that we are lucky enough to live in the greatest country in the world because America truly is “The Land of Opportunity”. Nowhere else can you wake up in the morning, regardless of your socioeconomic, family or educational background and start a business.

Now, while America is “The Land of Opportunity”, not all opportunities are equal.

Omaha, with its population of over 400,000 seemed like a place where Hookah would work.  The demographics of Omaha also showed promise, with a younger, more affluent White population and, as the home of 3 Universities, Omaha also was home to trendsetters.

Unfortunately, according to Taffer, Hookah would never succeed in Omaha and he removed the water pipes and replaced The Oasis Hookah Bar with a trendier, Middle Eastern-themed bar called “Taza”.

Shortly after Taffer left, proving that some people just can’t be helped, the owner of Taza flipped it back to a Hookah Bar.

To be honest, I’ve never smoked Hookah and don’t believe that I ever will. While the idea of smoking is not appealing to me, the thought of inhaling something from a communal pipe disgusts me. I’m the kind of person who checks the fountain spigots for mold at a Convenience Store before I pour myself a 52-oz Diet Mt. Dew (thankfully, Mayor Yenni hasn’t followed NY Mayor Bloomberg’s lead and tried to ban those yet).

While Metairie residents rejoice and imbibe at the new Cheescake Factory and anxiously await the arrival of Fresh Market, there’s word that Kenner – that’s right, Kenner – is also getting a new business - its very own Hookah Bar. Tucked away in the old TeCoRo’s/Sakora space on Williams will soon be Hookah.

I don't think that's exactly the kind of Economic Development that Kenner needs - or wants. But, what do I know? I wasn't on Mayor Yenni's handpicked Economic Development Committee. 

During the time that I’ve lived in Kenner, that space has been home to several restaurants, the longest tenured being TeCoRo’s, named after three sisters who operated the Italian Restaurant.

There are places in New Orleans that still supply Hookah but the original, The Hookah, closed its doors last year after a 9 year run.

Despite uneven results in more Metropolitan (and infinitely ‘hipper’) New Orleans, someone believes that Hookah can be successful in Kenner.

The demographics point otherwise.

Hookah is largely consumed by teens and college students – Kenner is not a hotbed of either. Hookah bars are frequented by young, affluent, hipster Whites. Again, Kenner is not the hippest, trendsetting city in New Orleans.

There is a growing Middle Eastern population in Kenner but I’m sure that they are already Hookah-ing at home if they are so inclined. So, while the population is growing, the market isn’t.

As someone who isn’t young, affluent or hip (although I am White), I’m disappointed that this prime real estate on Williams Blvd. will be home to a Hookah Bar, a place where you will never see me. Of course, it could have been the new home of a Cigar Bar, where you would also never see me.

Given that several restaurants have utilized that space, and all died unseemly deaths, I hope this new venture does well. Kenner needs thriving businesses. I’m just not sure that Hookah is it.

Hopefully, we won’t be seeing Jon Taffer and his Bar Rescue crew in Kenner anytime soon. I’m sure he’s not a big fan of Hookah.

The jury is out on whether Kenner agrees.