‘All about good government’

Kenner voters back political activity limit, contract reviews

The overwhelming approval of two Kenner charter amendments earlier this week is being hailed by some as a mandate for how the city operates, while Mayor Mike Yenni said it means very little will change for his office.

On Tuesday, roughly 70 percent of Kenner voters supported charter amendments proposed by the Kenner City Council that prevent Kenner’s 43 appointed employees from engaging in political activity in city elections and require council review for any contracts in excess of $100,000. Both amendments were added to the ballot despite concerns raised by Yenni.

Kenner Councilman Joseph Stagni and Walt Bennetti, president of Citizens for a Better Kenner, were instrumental in getting the measures on the ballot. Both men say they have fought for years for similar measures and were pleased to have support finally coalesce behind the measures.

Stagni said his goal is for Kenner government to be transparent and for the council to be informed of major decisions made by the mayor. In addition, he thinks that Kenner’s taxpayers shouldn’t have to battle Kenner employees if residents decide to run for political office. The changes were long overdue, and now the council can move forward as better stewards of the city, Stagni said.

“This is all about good government,” he said.

Bennetti said it has always been unacceptable that Kenner’s residents and council didn’t learn about the details of major city contracts until well after the fact. Bennetti said that when council members only learned that Yenni had renewed the city’s garbage contract six months after the decision, it was the final straw.

“That’s not the way government should work,” he said.

Bennetti acknowledged that the measure on employees’ political activity won’t impact most residents, but he said the new rules about contracts will instantly make for a more accountable city government. He pointed to the upcoming decision on what company will manage Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center as one example.

But, Yenni said the changes will have little impact on how his office operates because he’s always aggressively pursued the best deals for the city with professional services and that won’t change. He does think that having the council review the contracts will make them better leaders.

“I have no concern when it comes to having the council review a contact exceeding $100,000,” Yenni said by email. “If anything, I am pleased that all the councilmen must now better educate themselves on the contract’s points and compensation we negotiate.”

However, on the issue of political activity, Yenni was more cautious. He said that he will have no problems continuing to lead city employees and get his message out as a candidate.

But he wondered if the city might not be facing additional costs down the road because of the change.

“Should any unclassified Kenner employee challenge this amendment on the basis that it violates their personal rights because they are not granted civil service protection, I am concerned about its ability to survive a challenge and the potential costs the city could incur for legal defense,” he wrote.