The Kenner City Council voted Thursday night to approve raises of more than 53 percent for the city’s mayor and police chief that will take effect in 2018.
The council also voted to give the Police Department $1.67 million of the almost $7 million Kenner pocketed by settling a lawsuit it filed against BP over damages following the 2010 oil spill. The rest of the money will be used for future building projects that were spelled out in a plan adopted Thursday but that the council still must approve on an individual basis.
Councilmen Keith Reynaud and Gregory Carroll opposed each of the three measures. Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch, who is expected to run for mayor in the future, abstained on the mayoral raise.
The other four members endorsed all three ordinances.
Councilman Keith Conley introduced the measures to increase the mayor’s annual salary from $72,500 to $111,129 and the police chief’s from $68,500 to $105,280. Conley said the salaries hadn’t been adjusted since 1997 and that mayors and police chiefs overseeing fewer employees and smaller budgets in much smaller Louisiana municipalities earned much more than Kenner’s top officials did.
The measures also call for automatic pay raises for the mayor and chief every four years starting in 2022, capped at 10 percent but based on the cumulative average of recent salary increases given to Kenner’s Civil Service employees.
Conley said it is the council’s duty to keep the chief’s and mayor’s salaries competitive to attract high-quality candidates for the offices.
Mayor Mike Yenni, who recently won election to take over as president of Jefferson Parish in January, won’t benefit from the raise. Police Chief Michael Glaser will have to be re-elected to get his increased salary.
Conley emphasized that he spoke with numerous residents and civic groups before introducing the raises last month and that the vast majority of them understood the hikes were necessary.
Several council members said it is unacceptable that lower-ranking Kenner police employees could earn higher salaries because of civil service rules than the chief, whose office is political.
Reynaud, who is also expected to run for mayor, said he supported the concept of raises but preferred to let the public vote on whether to adopt a change to the city charter mandating them instead of enacting the pay increases through a council ordinance.
Carroll said he also realized that raises are needed but was unwilling to vote for an increase of more than 50 percent in one sitting.
The measure on using the BP settlement money calls for giving 24 percent of that money to the Police Department, which by city law receives that percentage of any undedicated funds. Glaser said the money will be used on new field equipment and vehicles for officers, computer upgrades and repairs at headquarters, among other things.
Building projects proposed by Yenni’s administration following the settlement include the reconstruction of a dilapidated city storage facility, improvements to sewerage lift stations and renovations at the Pontchartrain Center to bring it into compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.
Reynaud expressed concern about passing a proposal that was introduced just a month earlier, was based on suggestions from a mayor who will leave office in January and didn’t address other city needs.
Carroll echoed Reynaud’s sentiments, except the comments about Yenni’s looming departure.
“This is one-time money,” said Reynaud, who unsuccessfully moved to put a hold on allocating the capital funds to any projects except those mandated by laws like the ADA. “I want to make sure we’re spending the money the right way.”
Councilman Dominick Impastato said the plan had been analyzed and discussed in detail in the past month.
Yenni said he would never draft a haphazard proposal, even though he is leaving office, because he will still be a resident of Kenner when he becomes parish president.
“I am insulted you’d say that,” he told Reynaud.