“I’m tired of listening to you talking in rhymes
Twisting round to make me think you’re straight down the line
All you do to me is talk talk
All you do to me is
- Talk Talk (band and song of the same name)
When I think of Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn these days, I can’t get the haunting chorus from 1980’s one and a half hit wonder band Talk Talk out of my head.
Sure, Zahn talks a good game – he’s even fooled some folks that I respect into believing that he’s interested in their opinions and in working with them to improve Kenner.
The truth is, over the past 6 months, that’s all Ben Zahn has done – talk a good game. His actions don’t reflect his rhetoric. Ben Zahn is, and always has been, about Ben Zahn and his campaign contributors and surrounding himself with “Yes” people to the detriment of Kenner.
In fact, during his first 6 months, Ben Zahn has proven himself to be a terrible Mayor and terrible for Kenner.
Here are several examples to prove my statements:
The Kenner Housing Authority Debacle
This week, our old friend Connie Montgomery was in the news making a rash of allegations regarding the Kenner Housing Authority.
Now, despite the fact that Ms. Montgomery personally attacked me and several people close to me, I’m not going to disparage her. The facts will come out and, for the moment anyway, I’m willing to give Ms. Montgomery the benefit of the doubt and commend her taking a stand. Why Ms. Montgomery chose to attack me (someone she didn’t know) to curry favor with Mike Yenni is for her to know. It’s in the past as far as I’m concerned. I do wonder why an attorney would want to assist a Sexual Predator, but, again, that’s for her to reconcile. Hopefully, she got something more than an appointment to the KHA board.
The fact is, allegations of mismanagement at the KHA have been going on for years. Al Morella repeatedly brought up misdoings at the KHA years ago when he was appointed to the KHA board by then-Mayor and current Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni.
Again, my issues aren’t with Ms. Montgomery. They are, however, with the response from Mayor Zahn.
After Ms. Montgomery’s allegations reached the press, Zahn put out a press release promising a full investigation.
While the Mayor has no direct jurisdiction over the KHA, he does make appointments to the board. You would think that Mayor Zahn would be very proactive in an investigation that could potentially result in criminal charges.
Instead, Zahn turned over the investigation to Adam Campo, a political appointee whose title is “Internal Auditor” despite that the fact that he is not a certified auditor. In addition, Campo has never done an official audit on a city department (if he was going to, perhaps Community Development might be a good place to start) and he has no authority to file civil or criminal charges, file subpoenas, or do any real investigative work.
No, Zahn should have taken charge of the investigation and called in the Jefferson Parish Inspector General, or someone with some teeth, independence and the experience to actually get to the bottom of Ms. Montgomery’s allegations and truly clean up the KHA, not a green, uncertified Internal Auditor who, like Ms. Montgomery and the KHA board, is a political appointee.
The Jefferson Parish Council has spent hours discussing/debating issues with the JP Housing Authority while Mike Yenni has sat back twiddling his thumbs and forming Education Committees stacked with his political cronies while attempting to find new teenage boys to manipulate and model underwear.
When faced with even more egregious allegations, Mayor Zahn turns things over to a neophyte, uncertified Internal Auditor.
Sorry but that’s not leadership in my book.
The Employment Exceptions (Or How To Skirt The Charter While Continuing To Claim That You’re Not)
At the last Kenner City Council meeting, the Council approved by a 4-3 vote a “Special Hiring Ordinance” allowing two non-residents to become Kenner City Directors.
While I give Zahn props for putting up an ordinance, I need to temper those props due to the fact that he had to manipulate the Council meeting and give us a long dissertation by Bob Breck-wannabe, Emergency Management Director Doug Dodt on why Kenner had so much rain and why the pumps couldn’t keep up. This bought Zahn the time he needed for the fourth “Buisson Boy”, District 4 Councilman Lenny Cline to arrive at the meeting and cast the deciding vote along with his fellow “Buisson Boys”, Dominick Impastato, Mike Sigur and Tom Willmott.
While semantically it could be argued that a “Special Hiring Ordinance” would only be for a new hire like Finance Director Mike Wetzel, how does that explain the curious case of longtime Personnel Director Wendy Folse?
Folse was already in place as Personnel Director for several years and knew the Charter and the residency requirement. Yet in 2015, she willfully disregarded the Charter (and the people of Kenner) and moved out of Kenner. She knew the rule, yet didn’t care and Mike Yenni followed by “Acting Mayor” Sigur simply did nothing.
It was laughable listening to Sigur try to justify his vote. “A vote either way is a vote to uphold the Charter.”
Every time Sigur opens his mouth he proves once again that he is out of his league and never should have been elected to the City Council. In fact, I don’t even know if he’s qualified to resume his former position as Barney Fife-wannabe and WalMart Greeter.
Again, if you’re the Mayor, you uphold the Charter – not look for loopholes and use your fellow “Buisson Boys” to run roughshod over the voters of Kenner. The voters clearly wanted all political appointees to be Kenner residents – not some. Yes, they Charter may allow for exceptions in extreme cases but, a $107k plus benefits Finance Director and a $60k plus benefits Personnel Director (who made a conscious decision to move out of Kenner) are not “extreme cases”.
What message does Zahn’s “Special Hiring Ordinance” send to the other Kenner employees who’ve played by the rules, accepted the Charter and the residency rule, and done the right thing? What message is Zahn sending to the people of Kenner who approved the residency rule? How many more “Special Hiring Ordinances” will there be because Zahn won’t uphold the Charter?
In an interview with Nola.com, Zahn claims to be the “Mayor for all of Kenner”. How exactly did he prove that with his “Special Hiring Ordinance” designed to go around the people of Kenner and help two non-residents (who also happen to be part of the 12 malcontents suing the City to overturn another Kenner voter-approved Charter Change they disagree).
How about residing in Kenner so you can actually vote on our Charter Changes? Perhaps then we will care what you think about our City Charter.
Code Sweeps – The Low Hanging Fruit
At the past Council meeting, as he has done several times, Zahn patted himself on the back for another neighborhood code sweep.
Code sweeps are great. In fact, I think Kenner should do several a week, instead of maybe one a month.
The problem is, code sweeps are only a small part of Kenner’s blight issue.
Yes, you do a code sweep but then don’t follow up. The problems are still there a week or two later. We all can list several Kenner neighborhoods where there have been multiple code sweeps. Are the neighborhoods better? Of course not. How many code sweeps have been done on Martinique Avenue?
Code sweeps without consistent follow up are Band-Aids. Zahn generates a press release, takes a victory lap at a Council meeting and the problem continues to fester.
Also at the last Council meeting, Zahn again brought up the recent code sweep at The Pavilion Shopping Center. Zahn on multiple occasions has said that if the owners didn’t improve the shopping center, he was doing to demolish it.
What about the current tenants? Is Mayor Zahn going to demolish the vacant portions while leaving a huge empty space next to operational businesses?
Again, all talk from Zahn with no appropriate actions behind his words.
He knows he could never demolish a shopping center that is partially rented. For one thing, the City doesn’t have enough money in the budget to deal with demolishing blighted houses let alone take on a large shopping center.
And the reality is, Zahn only picked out The Pavilion because they have out-of-state owners. If Zahn really wanted to attack to commercial blight, he would be focusing on portions of Williams Blvd. as well. But, those properties have local owners and Zahn doesn’t want to upset them.
But, let’s get back to code sweeps and blighted housing.
The City’s budget includes about $100k for demolishing blighted houses in the next year. That equates to less than 10 houses and that’s only because the Council added more money from an unfunded position.
Less than 10 houses that could be torn down when there are hundreds of homes in Kenner considered “blighted” and ready for demolishing.
Could Zahn find more money for demoing blighted homes? Sure he could. In fact, I can come up with several hundred thousand right now.
Zahn has several “Mayoral Assistants” who are nothing more than political cronies feeding at the trough of Kenner taxpayers and he’s getting ready to hire another (more on that in a minute).
Zahn has Mary-Sharon Howland, who he supported in 2012 when she ran against current District 3 Councilman Keith Reynaud. Howland is the former Community Services Director under Ed Muniz and Mike Yenni. After her defeat by Reynaud, Howland became the Assistant Clerk of Courts. Her experience? ZERO. Then Howland became the Clerk of Courts.
Now Howland is Zahn’s Mayoral Assistant in charge of Party Planning, I mean, Events.
Here’s someone that has not had a non-City of Kenner appointed job in over 10 years, yet she keeps moving around from politically-appointed job to politically-appointed job (while her husband also works for the City. Don’t we have nepotism rules?).
Losing Kenner’s Party Planner would save $70k+ in salary and benefits.
Yeah, I know you do.
Zahn has appointed Rafael Saddy as Mayoral Assistant in charge of Cultural Diversity. Saddy is a longtime political operative in the Hispanic community.
In the announcement of Saddy’s appointment, Zahn noted Kenner’s growing Hispanic population and that Saddy speaks Spanish.
Zahn also noted that Saddy will work with Code Enforcement.
Does anyone actually believe that Saddy will go out in the community with Code Enforcement and tackle the main complaints about the Hispanic Community: multiple families and non-related adults living in one and two-bedroom apartments and single-family homes and non-permitted Hispanic block parties that blast loud music for miles and disturb and disrupt Kenner’s quiet neighborhoods?
My issue isn’t with Saddy, who is a decent man. My issue is, Kenner already has a Director of the Hispanic Resource Center. Shouldn’t she be responsible for outreach to Kenner’s Hispanic community?
Again, taking back Saddy’s salary and benefits would result in $70k+ that could be diverted to demolishing more blighted homes.
How about our old friend, former Times-Picayune reporter Bob Ross. After a stint in the Clerk of Courts employment wasteland (again, with no experience), and despite Mike Yenni’s vaunted Streamlining Budget Committee which recommended that Kenner didn’t need a Public Information Officer, Ross is…wait for it…Zahn’s Mayoral Assistant as Public Information Director.
Ross’s chief contributions to Kenner City government: he writes a few press releases, takes pictures of Zahn at ribbon cuttings, and he put out an Iphone video showing how bad the rain the Kenner was the other day.
A city the size of Kenner cannot afford a Public Information Officer, a glorified Party Planner or a duplicative Community Outreach person. These folks could easily go away not be missed and would save Kenner taxpayers over $200k in salary and benefits. That $200k could demolish another 20 or so blighted houses this year, next year, and for years to come until the hundreds of blighted Kenner homes shrank significantly.
Of course, if those positions went away, Zahn would have anything for this political cronies to do.
Well, there’s always the Clerk of Courts.
The “Economic Development” Director Who Isn’t
My last post described the curious tale of John Tobler, Zahn’s choice as Mayoral Assistant in charge of Economic Development. Zahn can’t name Tobler the City’s Economic Development “Director”, because like many others in the Zahn Administration, Tobler doesn’t reside in Kenner and would require yet another “Special Hiring Ordinance” to circumvent the Charter and the people of Kenner.
When I ran for Mayor in 2014, I released a list of 40 or so National, Regional and Metro New Orleans businesses that I would target to expand to Kenner. National grocers like Trader Joe’s (now open in Metairie), The Fresh Market (also open in Metairie) and Sprouts. Retailers like Belk’s. National restaurant chains like Outback, Texas Roadhouse, Chili’s and Regional Restaurants like WalkOns (now open in Clearview Mall).
I also discussed working with the owners of The Esplanade to attempt to lure new tenants to the mall.
Mike Yenni fired back, “The Esplanade is privately-owned. The Mayor of Kenner can do nothing to bring new business to the mall.”
I’ve always believed in the theory that, if you won’t get if you don’t ask.
Don’t you think that, the Mayor of Kenner sitting in Charlotte, NC, at the corporate offices of Belk’s with a great presentation on Kenner and The Esplanade, might mean something to bigwigs at Belk’s? Surely, it would at least put Kenner on the map for future Belk expansion and Belk’s is one of the few retailers that is actually expanding.
Yenni, as with the Jefferson Convention & Visitors Bureau (JCVB), opted to spend hundreds of thousands in Kenner tax dollars on JEDCO for work JEDCO should have provided to the City of Kenner for free. The reason: both are affiliated with Yenni (and Zahn’s) campaign manager, Greg Buisson.
As I mentioned in my post, when I learned that Zahn was cutting out JEDCO and bringing Economic Development in-house, I thought it was the right move.
In Tobler, Zahn is selecting yet another political operative. Someone who has never created a job in Kenner (possibly not in Jefferson Parish), never owned a business in Kenner, and has never recruited a business to Kenner (again, possibly not even in all of Jefferson Parish).
And, he doesn’t even live in Kenner.
I can imagine the conversation between Tobler and the head of a large National retailer’s Corporate Real Estate department.
Real Estate Head: “So, Mr. Tobler, one final question: what’s the best part of living in Kenner?”
Tobler: “Well, uh, you see, uh, I don’t actually, uh, live in Kenner.”
Anyone in sales knows that you can’t sell a product that you don’t know and, when it comes to Kenner, other than driving through it or driving to City Hall to kiss Zahn’s ring, Tobler is clueless. His hiring won’t help Kenner attract, recruit and retain businesses and jobs.
Now I’m certain that Zahn will prop Tobler up and trot him out for ribbon cuttings and publicly pat him on the back at every opportunity. Don’t be fooled. Tobler is yet another political operative connected to Greg Buisson, Zahn Campaign Manager and the Campaign Manager for the “Buisson Boys” on the Kenner City Council (Lenny Cline, Dominick Impastato, Mike Sigur and Tom Willmott). Those 4 “Buisson Boys” ensure that Zahn has the votes to get another Kenner non-resident political operative hired and yet another Buisson piglet feeding at the Kenner taxpayer trough.
So let’s summarize:
- Zahn appoints an uncertified Internal Auditor to head up a possibly criminal investigation into the Kenner Housing Authority.
- Zahn takes a victory lap each time he has Code Enforcement do a code sweep, and threatens an out-of-state developer, instead of actually attacking residential and commercial blight in Kenner.
- Zahn has loaded up on “Mayoral Assistants”, bloating Kenner’s payroll and squandering money that could be used for other priorities like tearing down blighted homes.
- Zahn’s choice of Mayoral Assistant in charge of Economic Development is nothing more than another political operative with ZERO economic development experience.
And we haven’t even discussed the Uber/Lyft debacle, boats in driveways, and other Kenner issues.
Now, to be fair, Zahn has done some good things during his first 6 months. He got Kenner a street sweeper and that will help. He brought in former JP Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee as CAO. Foshee has thus far proven to be a solid hire.
Zahn himself put out a multiple-page press release highlighting everything he’d “accomplished” during his first 100 days. If you want a good laugh, you can read it on the City’s website or in the Kenner Pravda, I mean, Kenner Star.
But, the bad judgement of the “Special Hiring Ordinance” and poor choice of an Economic Development point person, and the lack of leadership regarding the KHA and loading up the payroll with political operatives who have meaningless positions, far outweigh any good things Zahn has done.
And, sorry, nothing could possibly make up for the hideous fake bricks painted into medians across Kenner. Whoever had that bright idea should be taken behind a waste treatment building and shot.
Yeah, it’s been a pretty inauspicious first 6 months for the Zahn Administration.
Of course, if you know Ben Zahn like I do, you really weren’t expecting much more than Talk.