Embattled Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni continues to reject calls for his resignation more than three weeks after WWL-TV exposed his sexually explicit texts to a 17-year-old boy.
But after Yenni gave a series of carefully crafted apologies and promised not to repeat “mistakes,” some residents and council members want Yenni to answer more pointed questions about the specific allegations raised in the Sept. 29 report by WWL.
Metairie resident Herman Lombas sent a letter to the Jefferson Parish Council criticizing its members for not asking Yenni any questions when he went before them last Wednesday.
“I would like to know when someone/anyone is going to get the guts to present to (Yenni) a scenario that would require a simple YES or NO answer,” Lombas wrote to the council on Friday.
Lombas’ letter lists nine allegations from WWL’s report that Yenni has not addressed directly, including that Yenni kissed the teen in a mall bathroom, gave him underwear, sought to have sex with him, invited him to his apartment in Oxford, Miss., and offered him a job in his office.
The teen provided WWL-TV with 22 pages of what he said were texts between himself and Yenni, who sent more than 70 messages to the boy in a two-week span. In printouts of the texts, Yenni asked the teen to lie to his parents so they can meet, said he wants to see the boy in underwear he bought him, talks about the teen’s naked body and said he wants to perform sex acts on him.
Yenni has repeatedly declined to answer WWL’s questions over the last four months. The station’s latest request for an interview was denied by Yenni’s public relations adviser Greg Buisson on Friday.
“I was wondering why the Council didn’t try to shoot a question at him to ask about some of these additional points that were brought out in your initial report, that he’s never said a thing about,” Lombas said in an interview.
Councilman-at-large Chris Roberts said Lombas makes some good points in the letter and suggests the council may yet ask those questions.
“I think the council at this point feels as though the parish president owes that explanation to the public,” Roberts said.
Last Wednesday, the council unanimously passed a resolution of no confidence in Yenni’s ability to continue in office and unanimously called for his immediate resignation. But Roberts acknowledges the council can’t force Yenni out.
The only way to do that is through a recall election, which can’t happen unless almost 91,000 Jefferson Parish voters sign a recall petition by mid-April 2017. That effort began officially last week, and recall campaign organizer Robert Evans said it has collected more than 10,000 signatures so far.
The campaign plans to get the petition in front of more voters outside polling sites during the Nov. 8 presidential election.
In the meantime, Roberts said there’s more he and his colleagues on the parish council can do, especially with Yenni’s office budget. Roberts said the council members are discussing stripping the parish president’s office of some employees, including commissioned sheriff’s deputies who drive him and accompany him to events.
“The public may question whether or not we should have someone driving him around all day long, or whether or not those type positions are needed,” Roberts said. “And I think that’s the discussion this council is going to engage in.”
Sheriff Newell Normand, who has called for Yenni to resign and signed the recall petition, said through a spokesman he has no plans to pull back the deputies assigned to Yenni's office. The Sheriff's Office provides the deputies under a contract with the parish, and the council has control over whether they continue to serve in that capacity, Roberts said.
The New Orleans Advocate reported over the weekend that Yenni has asked for $3 million to pay for 20 full-time staff members in his office, including 10 appointees who are not covered by civil service.