The Jefferson Parish Council requested a full accounting of office renovations for Parish President Mike Yenni and his staff Wednesday, responding to a WWL-TV report last week that questioned rising costs and Yenni’s use of furnishings that are strikingly similar to those once used by George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
Yenni vigorously defended the large increase in spending on upgrades to offices and conference rooms used by his executive staff of 23 employees, both on the 10th floor of the Joseph S. Yenni Building in Harahan and on the 6th floor of the government building in Gretna.
“The 10th floor was, I guess, redone after Hurricane Katrina and there was a lot of wasted, empty space,” Yenni explained. “We’ve made it more efficient. It works a lot better. They didn’t have enough conference rooms for us to meet with people.”
And, as he said when interviewed by WWL-TV last week, Yenni told the Council he bought everything of value in his inner office with his own money, including the starburst-pattern rug made to look just like Bush’s with a presidential seal that says “Office of the President, Jefferson Parish.”
Except this time Yenni gave different items as the only ones in his inner office that were provided by the parish.
“Outside of the two garbage cans the parish provided me, one for recycling and one for trash, that’s all the parish has provided in my office,” he said Wednesday.
Last week, he told WWL-TV three telephones were the only items purchased with public money in his inner office.
Kenner resident Jack Zewe asked for invoices in September 2016 and said he hasn’t received any.
“On the public records request it says ‘all invoices,’” Zewe said. “I don’t know how more plain I can be. I haven’t seen one invoice. So, I’m at a crossroads of spending a couple more thousand dollars taking the parish to court to get the records I’ve requested. I prefer to have this council to take a lead role in saying, ‘What is going on?’”
Parish Attorney Michael Power said his office has provided all the records the parish has responsive to Zewe’s requests, suggesting the invoices he seeks do not exist. The parish eventually provided Zewe with a spreadsheet of expenses and purchase orders, but no invoices.
Parish Council Chairman Chris Roberts said he just wants to get to the bottom of how much was spent and on what. The Council approved his resolution to get a full accounting from the Finance Department, as well as sworn affidavits from department heads about whether any money was spent from their budgets on the furniture and fixtures in the Parish President’s Department’s offices.
Those documents are due to the Council by Oct. 18, and Yenni said his office would comply with the request.
Roberts said he was concerned that the $170,000 in expenses tallied by WWL-TV – based on public documents provided by the parish in response to separate records requests by Zewe and the TV station – far exceed what was approved by the council. Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng said last week that the council approved $106,000 in additional capital spending for the Parish President’s Office in 2016, but she said she didn’t understand why the final amended budget showed that line item in the budget had ballooned to $205,000.
Yenni said the office renovations were long overdue, just as upgrades to the council offices were needed when Roberts was first elected nearly 15 years ago.
“You know, in 2003, when a whole new council came on board, which I know you were a part of, a lot of those council offices had to be redone because they had a lot of old, existing furniture from council members who had been here for decades and it needed an upgrade,” Yenni said. “We had to do the exact same thing because the last major purchase in the parish president’s office, according to our purchasing department, was in 1997.”