KENNER, La. -- Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni was a no-show at Wednesday’s Jefferson Parish Council meeting, surprising and disappointing council members and constituents who had hoped he would respond to a WWL-TV report that the FBI is looking into allegations Yenni sent sexually explicit texts to a 17-year-old boy last year.
WWL-TV spoke exclusively with the teen, who provided the station with copies of text messages he said were exchanged with Yenni in June 2015, when Yenni was mayor of Kenner and was running for the top elected office in the state’s biggest parish.
Yenni, who is 40 and married with a small child, repeatedly declined to address the allegations before the story aired and again in the days afterwards. But he had never missed a council meeting since becoming parish president in January, and Wednesday’s was the first to be held in his hometown of Kenner.
Instead of showing up in person, Yenni had top aide Keith Conley read a prepared statement to the council saying Yenni did not want to disrupt the council’s business and would address the allegations later in the week. Conley later told reporters Yenni would give a statement to the media, probably by Thursday.
Kenner resident Stacey Alessandro said she didn’t believe the reason Conley gave for Yenni’s absence.
“The reasons given today for his absence appears to be bogus,” said the mother of two boys. “I fail to see how his presence at this meeting would have disrupted anything any more than they already are.”
At-large Councilwoman Cynthia Lee Sheng, who chaired the meeting, said she was surprised to learn before the meeting that Yenni would not appear.
“I would have hoped that he would have been here to address this himself, and I think he should have been here to address this himself,” Lee Sheng said.
But for some residents, the allegations outlined by WWL-TV were enough to call for Yenni’s immediate resignation, even without a response.
“The board of directors of Citizens for a Better Kenner is requesting Parish President Mike Yenni’s resignation,” said Richard Brown, vice president of the group that officially welcomed the parish council to its only meeting in Kenner this year.
“I call on Parish President Yenni to resign,” Dennis Burke of Metairie said when it was his turn to address the council. “Just as the appearance of impropriety has been lethal to the political careers of others, so it should be for Yenni.”
Another Kenner resident, Terri Timmcke, called on the council to be “out in front” and not to “lead from behind” by waiting on Yenni to respond. She called on the legislative body to use new powers to launch its own, independent investigation of the allegations raised by WWL.
“President Yenni is the face of Jefferson Parish,” Timmcke said. “We deserve a face of integrity and not a façade of swirling controversy.”
Brown had a particularly strong reaction to the teen’s allegation in the WWL-TV report that Yenni had “asked me to be a secretary or assistant in his office; that way I could be with him and not be questioned.”
“The worst thing to me is the reported offering of a job to this teenager,” Brown said. “That is intolerable.”
Brown also expressed concern that the allegations are already affecting how Yenni can do his job.
Several speakers mentioned WWL-TV’s report that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., had dropped out of a scheduled event with Yenni and The New Orleans Advocate’s report that Jesuit High School did not want Yenni to come to this year’s commencement luncheon after learning of the allegations that he had first seen the teen at that same event the year before.
“As parish president he is invited to all kinds of functions all over the parish where children and teenagers are present. He’s invited to school functions, to playgrounds, to sporting events,” Brown said. “If Mr. Yenni is no longer allowed to attend school events and public events, it really puts the parish in an awkward position.”
Lee Sheng said she’s feeling the impact too.
“They brought up issues today about his ability to lead with this hanging over our head,” she said. “It has been a distraction to us.”