By: David Hammer / Eyewitness Investigator
The calls for Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni to resign grew louder through the day Friday as public officials reacted to Yenni’s admission that he sent “improper texts to a young man.”
Yenni issued a carefully crafted, pre-recorded commercial Thursday night to respond to WWL-TV’s exclusive report on Sept. 29, which exposed an FBI inquiry into Yenni’s texts from the summer of 2015, which sought sex with a teen he had seen while attending a high school luncheon.
Yenni admitted to the texts but did not go into details. He apologized to the teen’s family, his own family and the people of Jefferson Parish, then signaled he would stay on the job and learn from his mistakes.
But top parish officials weren’t buying it.
And as the day wore on, officials and groups that had remained silent were stepping forward with words of condemnation.
After the two parish-wide council members, Cynthia Lee Sheng and Chris Roberts, set the tone with a letter signed by one of five district council members – Ricky Templet – the entire parish council eventually joined in, with the other four members signing a separate letter.
Then Sheriff Newell Normand, one of Yenni’s first key political allies who supported him in his 2010 race for Kenner mayor, said his friend had to go.
“As the days progressed and more information was coming out and then the commercial last evening where he admitted to sending the texts, I think that puts a whole different issue in a whole different context,” Normand said.
On top of that, the New Orleans Archdiocese said Yenni is no longer allowed to visit or work with students in their churches and schools.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey McDonald said Yenni had “violated boundaries,” and “according to the Safe Environment Policy enforced in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and in dioceses throughout the country, those who have violated boundaries are not able to visit or work with students in our Catholic churches and schools."
That was significant because more than eight months ago, the man who ran against Yenni for parish president, Elton Lagasse, sent a letter to Archbishop Gregory Aymond saying a credible source had reported “sexual misconduct” by Yenni “involving a senior at Jesuit High School.”
Aymond replied in February saying “we take such allegations very seriously.”
Our partners at The New Orleans Advocate reported that Yenni was then asked not to attend the 2016 commencement luncheon where he had allegedly first seen the teen who made the sexting allegations to WWL-TV.
But since then, Yenni has made several visits to Catholic schools as parish president, so the determination that he violated the Safe Environment Policy could have a major impact on his ability to make those official appearances.
Meanwhile, Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge, a member of the Jefferson Parish School Board, said Yenni should not be allowed in public schools and playgrounds either. She said the board is holding a special session Tuesday and would consider calling for Yenni to resign.
The next group that could weigh in are business leaders. Normand said he’s been talking with them because the parish has important tax millages on the ballot this fall that it is asking voters to approve.
“I have been on the phone for the last three days with dozens of business leaders,” Normand said. “Many of (them) are expressing the same concerns, not knowing what to do and how to go about dealing with this situation, all feeling and articulating the same thing I am today because this is not what anybody wanted.”
Yenni was supposed to speak to the Westbank Business and Industry Association about the millages Thursday but sent staff instead after he suddenly announced he had been deployed to the East Coast as a public information officer supporting Hurricane Matthew response for the Navy Reserves.
In the ad Yenni released Thursday, the 40-year-old parish president says he was, as a 38-year-old mayor of Kenner in the summer of 2015, “old enough to know better, but I guess I was still young enough to do something stupid.”
He didn't address most of the allegations from our story but he apologized and suggested he would not resign.
“I'm certainly not afraid of the future, because I'm smart enough to never forget the past,” Yenni said.
But, as WWL-TV first reported last week, this is not the first time the FBI investigated Yenni's sexually explicit texts. Six years ago, Yenni's texts seeking sex with eight adult men and a woman on a taxpayer-financed phone were improperly removed from a Kenner city server, as a part of an effort by political enemies to embarrass Yenni.
Normand said Yenni tried to cast the WWL-TV story in the same light.
“He told a number of his supporters that the story was politically motivated and not true,” Normand said. “But then he does the commercial and admits it. You can’t have it both ways.”
If Yenni is hoping the furor will die down by the time he returns from his military duty in Virginia on Oct. 15, that’s not going to happen, said Ed Lancaster, president of the Concerned Citizens of Kenner, the first group to officially call for Yenni to resign at a council meeting Wednesday.
“It will die down when he sends his resignation in and the city can go back to business. The business of government,” Lancaster said. “He cannot do it anymore.”
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