Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni was contrite and defiant at a Parish Council meeting Wednesday, where he made his first in-person public comments on the sexting scandal exposed in a report by WWL-TV that has led to calls by prominent public officials for him to step down and set in motion a recall petition.
The council unanimously passed a resolution of no confidence in Yenni’s ability to lead and requested he step down.
Yenni made a short but determined statement saying that his behavior, while regretful, was not illegal and not a cause for him to step down from his job.
“This has been one of the most demoralizing and disappointing times of my life. My disappointment is solely with me,” he said in front of the Parish Council and an audience that included some supporters and some vocal detractors from the public.
“My personal life has been invaded, but I shall not let my public life be invalidated.”
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As was the case during a commercial that aired shortly after the WWL-TV report and in a statement released a few days later, Yenni did not give many details about the sexting messages that he sent to a then-17-year-old high school student.
“I did not meet or speak with this person at any high school function,” Yenni said.
The teenager in question told WWL-TV that Yenni saw him at a high school function and asked a mutual friend to put them in contact.
After Yenni spoke and the resolution was presented, the public had its turn. The first person to the podium, Pastor Aubrey Wallace, offered an impassioned plea to retain Yenni unless further information comes out.
Wallace, a former employee of Yenni’s election campaign and himself once involved in a major corruption scandal, told the council it shouldn’t be casting moral judgment.
“Y’all opened a Pandora’s box,” he said, his voice often rising. “You want to be the moral code of Jefferson Parish? Say what’s sin? Enumerate what sin is the lowest?”
The audience included about a dozen people in pro-Yenni shirts and several with signs saying ‘Take a Hike Mike.’ The embattled parish president’s mother was also in the chambers for the often pointed and tough session.
The other speakers – some extremely animated – called for Yenni to step down.
“I ask Mike to look into his heart and see for the good of Jefferson Parish that it is better for you to resign and take care of your family, and take care of yourself, and allow our parish to grow,” said George Peterson of Waggaman.
After the public had its say, Yenni again spoke, forcefully stating that he had broken no laws, had not let any incident affect his parish dealings. He again apologized and said with the help of some clergy, he had decided to stay and fight for his job.
“They were personal actions between me and a college-bound, legal adult,” he said. “I can only grow stronger as a husband, fatherand public servant from the immorality that once weakened me. The mistakes I have made will never be repeated. That is not only my promise to the people. That is my promise to God.”
Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken was not as quick to ask Yenni to step down last week. Then she heard Yenni argue this is a private matter.
Van Vrancken stuck with the unanimous vote of no confidence even after Yenni's appeal.
“I'm not about judging,” she said. “I'm about moving the parish forward and making sure we get our business done. (This) makes it difficult.”
A few thousand residents have already signed the petition to recall Yenni. There will need to be more than 90,000 authorized signatures to get the measure to the public ballot.
(© 2016 WWL)