Kenner Council to meet privately on contract at heart of veto

After stern warnings, a Louisiana attorney general’s opinion and a veto from Kenner Mayor Michael Yenni, the Kenner City Council plans to meet behind closed doors to discuss the city’s two-year contract for PVC piping at Thursday’s board meeting.

Councilman Keith Reynaud has requested that the council meet with Yenni in executive session to discuss the contract, said Council Chairwoman Jeannie Black. On Monday, Yenni vetoed the council’s April 18 decision to award the contract to Cimsco Inc. of Metairie. The council needs five votes to override Yenni’s veto, and Black said she believes the board has the necessary votes.

On Wednesday evening, Yenni’s administration released a notice that the state Attorney General agreed with Yenni’s veto and said Cimsco’s bid failed to meet the city’s requirements. The Attorney General recommended the city reject the company’s bid.

Black said council members want the executive session because they have been disturbed by Yenni’s contention that the board’s decision to award the contract to Cimsco instead of Quality Siteworks Materials could open up Kenner to a lawsuit. City Attorney Keith Conley said the company had contacted the attorney general, and Conley also sought an opinion from the agency. Black planned to meet with Yenni prior to the meeting to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit.

“Any time you have the possibility of litigation it’s serious,” Black said.

Yenni’s administration recommended that Quality Siteworks receive the contract after officials determined it was the lowest “responsive bidder.”

That determination was made because even though Cimsco’s bid was about $14,000 less than Quality Siteworks’, the administration deemed Cimsco “non-responsive” because the bid included a 3.5 percent increase in the contract’s second year. The city prohibited companies from adding such a clause to the bid because Yenni said he wanted to keep costs firm throughout the contract.

Yenni has been irate that the council moved forward with the Cimsco deal despite the concerns raised by Conley. He said the bid documents were clear on what was allowed by interested companies, and Cimsco failed to meet those requirements.

Chief Administrative Officer Mike Quigley has said approving Cimsco’s bid simply because the company was the lowest bidder sets a dangerous precedent for the city.

Yenni said the council is overstepping its authority and putting the city at risk for additional legal costs.

“I have to follow the law. The council has to follow the law,” Yenni said. “I don’t always agree with the city attorney, but I have to do what he says.”

But Black said council members have questions about Conley’s recommendation, noting that there are times when it feels like he’s providing opinions that align with the mayor’s positions. Black referred to the last time Yenni used his veto, when the council voted to prevent the city’s appointed officials from participating in political campaigns.

After the council overrode Yenni’s veto, that issue was eventually decided by voters who overwhelmingly passed a charter agreement siding with the council. However, after that election, Conley discussed the possibility of filing a lawsuit naming the council members as parties, although he never followed through.

Black said the situations are similar because in both cases Conley and the Mayor’s Office presented the administration’s decision as the only plausible choice.

However, she said that just isn’t true, and council members sometimes have to trust their own understanding of things.

Black said she is willing to hear Yenni’s side of things on Thursday and could decide that he is correct.

“It’s not always black and white,” Black said. “Sometimes there is a gray area.”

Quality Siteworks submitted a bid of $96,122 for the piping, while Cimsco bid $82,277. Reynaud has noted that even with the cost escalation in the second year, Cimsco’s bid would be lower than Quality Siteworks.

Quality Siteworks recently merged with F&G Services, which had the piping contract previously.