Kenner Mayor Making All The Wrong Moves
Written by  Walt Bennetti, Publisher of ClickJefferson.com // Friday, 17 December 2010 09:57 //

It’s a good thing that he was elected this spring to a 4-year term because, if the election were held tomorrow, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni would need to find a real job.

When he was campaigning, Yenni repeatedly touted that he would extend the Muniz Administration for another 4-year term, even though many believed that Mayor Muniz would have been resoundingly defeated. The people of Kenner, while tired of an ineffective Muniz, heard a different message and were hopeful that the new Mayor might actually reform Kenner Government and bring fresh, new ideas to Kenner.

Sadly, the latter hasn’t occurred.

Since taking office, Mayor Yenni has:

- Pushed for approval of Mayor Muniz’s budget which threatened to essentially close Rivertown and fire Rivertown employees.

- Backed away from the threat to close Rivertown.

- This week, reversed course again, fired employees and made Rivertown available by appointment-only and with reduced weekend hours.

- Kept the bulk of the Muniz’s Administration’s at-will employees, even though the Muniz Administration significantly grew the size of City Government.

- Said he was not going to fill the Deputy CAO position after he moved Deputy CAO Mike Quigley to CAO. Kept Deputy CAO for Public Works Pratt Reddy and then hired former Jefferson Parish CAO Jose Gonzalez and put him in charge of Public Works. Does the City of Kenner need a Deputy CAO for Public Works and a Director of Public Works? - Fired the city’s Internal Auditor and replaced her with a non-certified Internal Auditor who will need to take 2 years of classes to become certified.

- Pushed through a 145% sewerage increase to pay for items that were neglected when Mayor Yenni was CAO under Muniz.

And, after all that, the Mayor now wants to double the property taxes of Kenner residents. The new taxes will provide a dedicated funding source for the Kenner Police Department. The KPD is currently funded with a mix of sources including sales tax revenue, funds from the Treasure Chest Casino and the city’s general fund.

If the new taxes are approved, the KPD will still be funded from all of the variable sources but will have new funding from the new taxes that will significantly increase the KPD budget.

The Mayor contends that, if the new taxes are not approved by voters, city services will need to be drastically cut.

And, maybe city services do need to be cut. But the Mayor should cut the size of Kenner Government first before he cuts any services or proposes tax increases.

With the economy in its current state, people across the country and across Kenner are cutting back. They are doing more with less and eliminating any and all frills.

Sadly, the size of Kenner Government continues to grow. And grow. And grow some more.

Kenner Government, like government everywhere, is bloated and top-heavy. You could realistically fire half of the city’s personnel and not make a dent in city services. Departments should be consolidated. Department Heads and Assistant Department Heads and their staffs should be eliminated.

In it’s 2010-2011 budget, the City of Lake Charles, which is slightly larger in population than the City of Kenner and almost 3 times larger geographically, eliminated 30 unfilled positions including 1 from the Mayor’s Office and cut Police and Fire Department overtime by $1 Million.

The overall budget for the Lake Charles Police Department increased by less than $1 Million and the Fire Department’s budget actually shrank by $300,000. The Police and Fire Departments of Lake Charles are responsible for an area of 40.17 square miles. Kenner’s footprint is only 15.14 square miles.

In fact, while it is denser population wise, the City of Kenner’s actual footprint is comparable to Houma’s, and the City of Kenner is 2/3rds the size of LaPlace geographically. While both have lower populations, their Police and Fire Departments are responsible for larger areas.

But back to Lake Charles.

The City of Lake Charles is taking steps to cut the size of government and kept their property taxes at the same level. They are not increasing taxes and fees like Kenner. Trying to improve its quality of life, the City of Lake Charles increased their recreation budget by 12%. Lake Charles is self-funding their employee insurance program, and the self-funding is saving the City money.

In a nutshell, Lake Charles is cutting back, like its citizens, while the City of Kenner’s Government, led by Mayor Yenni, continues to grow.

The 2010-1011 budget for the City of Kenner is $57.6 Million. The 2010-2011 budget for the City of Lake Charles is $55 Million. How is Lake Charles doing more, and serving more people on a larger footprint with $2.6 Million less than Kenner?

And it’s not just Lake Charles.

The City of Harahan also does more with less.

Harahan, while 7 times smaller than Kenner population wise, has a budget of $5.3 Million annually, or 11 times smaller than the City of Kenner. The Kenner Police Department’s budget alone is over 3 times the total budget for the City of Harahan and 12 times larger than Harahan’s Police Department budget.

To be fair, the City of Kenner’s current budget is smaller than last year’s budget, but it needs to be even smaller and it could easily be a lot smaller if the Mayor would drastically cut the overhead in City Hall.

In May, ClickJefferson.com opined about the Kenner 2010-2011 budget and the lack of personnel cuts. Our cries, and the cries of many Kenner citizens, went unheeded.

At the risk of being redundant and in an attempt to remind the citizens of Kenner and the Mayor, we again ask the following personnel questions. Does the City of Kenner really need:

- A CAO, a Deputy CAO for Public Works and a Public Works Director?

- A Finance Director, 2 Senior Accountants, a Finance Project Coordinator, and a Payroll Administrator?

- A Director of Inspections and Code Enforcement, a Planning Director and an Assistant Director of Code Enforcement?

- A City Attorney, a Deputy City Attorney and a Senior Assistant City Attorney?

- A Personnel Director and a Civil Service Director? - A Community Services Director, Community Development Director, Recreation Director, Recreation Maintenance Supervisor, Recreation Administrative Coordinator, a Recreation Operations Administrator and an Assistant Director of Recreation?

- A Public Information Officer?

- A KTV Manager?

- An IT Director?

Do the people of Kenner really need all of these positions, each earning over $50,000 per year in salary alone, to keep the City of Kenner running properly, that is assuming that you believe the City of Kenner is running properly now?

Separately, does the Mayor of a city the size of Kenner need an Executive Assistant, an Executive Coordinator, a Senior Secretary and 2 more Secretaries? The payroll budget for the Mayor’s Office alone is 10% of the City of Harahan’s total operating budget and 1/3 of Harahan’s Police Department budget. The Kenner Mayor’s Office also has a larger payroll budget than the Mayor of Lake Charles. Sorry, I thought we were done comparing Kenner to Lake Charles.

The question is: What do all of these people do?

You can look at every Department in the City of Kenner, and there are a lot of Departments, and find a bloated personnel budget.

Since I mentioned “personnel” let’s look at the Personnel Department.

The City of Kenner’s Personnel Department has a Personnel Director, an Assistant Director, an Insurance Processor, an Application Processor, a Human Resources Manager and a Secretary. Combined the personnel in the City of Kenner’s Personnel Department will cost taxpayers almost $321,000 in the current fiscal year, plus an additional $20,000 budgeted for “Legal Fees” although Kenner has it’s own in-house Legal Department.

Speaking of the Legal Department, not to continue comparing Kenner to Lake Charles but, Kenner is budgeting $785,855 for its Legal Department with almost $600,000 going towards salary and benefits while Lake Charles is budgeting $665,836 with only $378,000 allocated for salary and benefits. Again, it’s about doing more with less.

You can compare every Department in Kenner to Departments in other comparable cities and the clear pattern would show that Kenner overspends on personnel.

The City Charter, while allowing the Mayor to add Departments, specifies the following Departments: Fire, Police, Legal, Finance, Civil Service, Public Works, Community Services, Planning and Personnel. The majority of these Department Directors serve at the pleasure of the Mayor.

The Charter says nothing about Community Relations, Fleet Management, a Hispanic Resource Center, Information Technology, Inspection and Code Enforcement, KTV, The Pavilion at City Park and Purchasing (shouldn’t the Finance Department handle Purchasing?). In fact, the Charter says that Parks & Recreation comes under the Community Services Department, so why does it have it’s own Director?

Before anyone accuses me of being unfair to Mayor Yenni, I would be remiss in pointing out that, except for Councilman Gregory Carroll, the current Kenner City Council sat on their hands and watched Mayors Muniz and Yenni spend money on personnel and significantly grow the size of the City payroll. The Kenner Council could have, and should have, stepped in and held the Mayors accountable.

For all the criticism that was leveled upon him, during Phil Capitano’s two-year term as Mayor which included the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, Capitano turned over a significant rainy-day fund to Muniz. After Katrina’s spending boom and false economy, rather than replenishing those funds or spending them on capital projects and making a 145% increase in sewerage fees and a doubling of property taxes unnecessary, both Muniz and Yenni continued to spend.

While ClickJefferson.com firmly believes that the Kenner Police Department needs a stable, dedicated funding source and we all want improved Fire protection, we also believe that the City of Kenner’s personnel could be easily cut by at least $2-3 Million annually with no decrease in services. The City is just too top-heavy and can’t continue to spend money and keep unnecessary personnel, departments, programs and services. It’s that simple and we are disappointed that not only has Mayor Yenni chosen to continue the bloating of the Muniz Administration, he has added to it and exacerbated the problem.

Mayor Yenni contends that the new taxes and tax renewals are a “Quality of Life” issue. We’re not convinced of that “fact”.

Mayor Yenni, cut the fat in City Hall. Stop creating positions for your friends and allies and start running the City of Kenner like a business. If you must cut programs, cut those that are little used or do not significantly impact the quality of life in Kenner. But, cut the fat in City Hall first. After you’ve done that, if there still isn’t enough money, cut some more. The people of Kenner can’t afford a doubling of their property taxes while the City’s waistline continues to grow.

We think that Kenner’s “Quality of Life” will improve substantially if there were less people employed by Kenner City Government and the citizens of Kenner paid less in taxes and fees. Hopefully, one day soon, we’ll have a Mayor that agrees with us.

By Walt Bennetti, Publisher of ClickJefferson.com

NOTE: The following Editorial appeared on ClickJefferson.com.

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