KENNER, La. — Kenner Mayor Michael Glaser promised to bring honesty and integrity back to city hall.
Six weeks into the job, Glaser has uncovered what he called enormous expenses at the old Macy’s department store.
It’s been the temporary home of Kenner city government since Hurricane Ida severely damaged the city’s municipal complex on Williams Boulevard.
“When I took office, we had heard that they were paying rent in the neighborhood of $60,000 a month for the Macy’s Building,” Glaser said. "With that, I started asking questions."
That was the tip of the iceberg.
Glaser says the city was actually paying $160,000 a month in total expenses to use the building at mostly unoccupied Esplanade Mall.
That included more than $78,000 a month for a two-bathroom trailer under an emergency contract that was never rebid.
“That was the thing that jumped off the page for me as I saw the number $78,000 for a restroom and asked was that annually or what’s that number for and to my surprise, it was monthly,” Glaser said.
Kenner District 4 Councilman George Branigan says the portable bathroom charge is shocking.
“I would hope that when they emptied it, they had hundred-dollar bills and gold bricks coming out the other end because I was furious,” Branigan said. “I could not believe that.”
Branigan says with charges like this, he fears FEMA won’t reimburse the city for much of the money spent on disaster relief in the aftermath of Ida.
“If we do get stuck with a lot of this $32 million it could be a problem financially for the city,” Branigan said. “It was just never, ever explained to the council how much was being spent.”
Mayor Glaser says the city found a new portable bathroom vendor, Pelican Events, at a substantial savings. Pelican Events' bathroom trailers have been on site at the old Macy’s building for about three weeks. The company is charging the city $10,000 a month instead of the previous $78,000 a month.
“Most of it is neglect is what it looks like,” Glaser said. “There was nobody monitoring the contracts.”
Mayor Glaser is hoping to be out of the Macy’s building and the remaining city departments in city-owned buildings by the end of the year.
Former Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn said the contract was reimbursable and was pre-approved by FEMA. He sent the following statement to WWL-TV in response to this story:
"The Pre-Approved Emergency Contract that was in place and voted on by the Council was triggered to supply facilities to our employees. While this contract is reimbursable and was pre-approved by FEMA, anything outside the Pre-Approved Contract is not. FEMA is there to act as a safety net so that the citizens do not have their city’s general fund crippled by disasters. Ask Tennessee and Kentucky if they are seeking reimbursement from FEMA right now because I don't think they have GOLD BRICKS. Kenner doesn’t.
I'm not sure why the current administration was too inept to figure these things out on its own. They have access to all the necessary information to accurately inform the public. The CFO that oversaw this entire process is still employed by them. I can only speculate as to why they are choosing to not shoot straight with the public. Many of the council people were there as these things occurred. They used these bathrooms and now pretend they had no oversight over the process of acquiring them or being reimbursed for them.
Politics are politics but honesty has to kick in at some point."