Jeff ordinance aimed at consultant, critics say

Either it was a bare-knuckles act of retaliation against a consultant who worked for a rival politician, or it was an honest attempt to prevent conflicts of interest.

Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts insisted that his latest ordinance, which the council approved last week, was entirely about the latter. Others weren’t so sure.

The law bars people who work for election campaigns in Jefferson — in either council or parish president races — from also getting contracts from the parish government or groups receiving parish funds.

Ben Zahn, a frequent opponent of Roberts on the council, said he thought the measure, which was approved by a 5-2 vote Wednesday, was aimed squarely at Greg Buisson, a political consultant and media relations expert.

Buisson recently worked for Louis Congemi, who unsuccessfully challenged Roberts for his council seat in the Oct. 24 primary. Buisson also happens to hold a contract to supply Carnival reviewing stands to the parish, and he works with groups that accept parish money to stage public events such as Family Gras. Under the new ordinance, he won’t be able to do both in the future.

Roberts argues that’s as it should be — that money the parish spends on events should not end up inadvertently aiding a political campaign.

He said the idea for the ordinance came to him after the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau said it was planning a forum for candidates running for parish president, even though the bureau, which gets parish funding, also has a contract with Buisson, who was working with one of the presidential candidates, eventual winner Mike Yenni.

“This avoids that conflict,” Roberts said.

Zahn wasn’t buying it.

“Curious his contracts haven’t been questioned (until now)” by Roberts, Zahn said.

Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee expressed some concern about the ordinance in a memo to the council, saying it might infringe on rights to free expression or equal protection under the law. Roberts countered that it shouldn’t be a problem, given that government workers subject to civil service protections face restrictions on their political activity as well.

Buisson said he plans to challenge the new rules in court. “I hope (Roberts) at least enjoyed a chuckle from his unconstitutional ordinance,” he said, “because he won’t have the last laugh.”

Transition team poised to offer advice to Yenni

Jefferson Parish’s registrar of voters and a Kenner city councilman are among the five members of a team that will help Mike Yenni transition into the position of Jefferson Parish president after his victory in the Oct. 24 election.

The team includes Jefferson Registrar of Voters Dennis DiMarco, who for years was the parish’s finance director, and Kenner Councilman Keith Conley, who previously served as Kenner’s city attorney and its clerk of court.

The other team members are Robert “Bobby” Breen, who was the chief administrative assistant to former Parish Councilman and interim Parish President Willie Hof in the 1980s; Chris Cox, who used to be the top aide to outgoing Parish President John Young before leaving to work for the District Attorney’s Office last year; and Charlotte Burnell, a former chief administrative officer in Kenner.

The transition team’s task will be to evaluate the current heads of parish departments, analyze those departments’ budgets and identify any changes that may be needed when Yenni takes over in January.

Most members of Yenni’s transition team have direct ties to either him or his grandfather and uncle, Joseph Yenni and Michael J. Yenni, respectively, who both served as parish president.

For example, DiMarco was parish finance director under both Joseph Yenni — who served as parish president from 1980 to 1987 — and Michael J. Yenni, who was in office for about seven years until his death in 1995. DiMarco also was co-chairman of the transition team Yenni appointed before becoming Kenner’s mayor in 2010.

Meanwhile, Conley spent some of his six-plus years as Kenner’s city attorney working under the parish president-elect.

Ex-U.S. attorney joins criminal defense firm

There’s a long and rich tradition of prosecutors leaving the job of putting away bad guys to work in the private sector, usually defending accused criminals.

But some of them can never make that switch; it’s just not in their DNA.

For while, it seemed like Jim Letten was in that number. After about two decades as a state and federal prosecutor, Letten had an 11-year run as U.S. attorney in New Orleans that ended in 2012. When he stepped down amid controversy, he took a job as an assistant dean at Tulane Law School, allowing him to keep a hand in the world of law without turning to what some of his old colleagues might call the “dark side.”

But last week, Letten joined the Butler Snow law firm, which specializes in criminal defense work. There, he will work with the white-collar crime group and “consult on a variety of defenses,” the firm announced.

It’s unlikely, though, that the ex-prosecutor who was famous for inveighing against public corruption on the courthouse steps will be defending the next local politician accused of sticking his hand in the cookie jar.

Letten said in an interview that he doesn’t see himself doing “individual criminal work.” Rather, he said, he’ll primarily be advising corporate clients on regulatory matters, internal investigations and compliance with various federal laws.

“Hopefully, with the expertise I’ve developed over the years, I’ll be able to provide really good advice,” he said.

Letten will continue in his role at Tulane while working at the firm, where he will be listed as “of counsel.”

Compiled by Ramon Antonio Vargas, Gordon Russell and Jeff Adelson