New Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni and Parish Council members apparently did not get along very well while preparing to take their oaths of office last week.
Ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration, disagreements between Yenni and some council members ranged from the order of speakers and the design of the invitations to when the council would approve certain Yenni appointments, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid exacerbating tensions further.
Yenni wanted to be the final speaker at the ceremony, for instance, saying that’s when parish presidents spoke at previous inaugurations. But the council chose to order the speakers according to where their names appeared on last fall’s ballot, placing Yenni fourth in a line of 11 officials.
Then there were the invitations, which the parish sent out without the names of the incoming officials on them, just the time and place of the ceremony. That apparently didn’t sit well with Yenni, who paid to have his own invitations drawn up with names included.
Some council members then apparently took exception to seeing Yenni’s name placed first and in larger type than their own.
Yenni also wanted the council to sign off on some of his administrative appointments during a brief public meeting it held after the ceremony, while the council put that off until later in the month, saying Wednesday’s meeting would be reserved for designating its own officers.
All that Yenni and a couple of council members would say on the matter is that they had buried their disagreements and looked forward to working together.
— Jefferson PR director to join Nungesser staff —
Kriss Fairbairn Fortunato will be leaving her job as Jefferson Parish government’s public information officer to become the communications director for Lt. Gov.-elect Billy Nungesser.
Nungesser will take his oath of office along with Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards in Baton Rouge on Monday.
Fortunato submitted her resignation letter Friday and said the change will happen “soon.”
A former news anchor for WDSU-TV, Fortunato, 52, was hired to be the parish spokeswoman after John Young was elected president in 2010. Young ran for lieutenant governor in the fall but narrowly missed qualifying for the Nov. 21 runoff that Nungesser, the former president of Plaquemines Parish, won.
Young’s successor as parish president, Mike Yenni, had indicated last month that he intended to keep Fortunato in her position.
“I was looking forward to working with Mike Yenni when this opportunity came along,” Fortunato said, “and I am excited about taking my public service to the next level and serving the citizens of this state.”
Fortunato became well known in the New Orleans area after working for WDSU from about 1990-97 and from 2001 until several months before joining Young’s administration. She said she moved on from her TV career to take care of her father — who was terminally ill — and spend more time with her husband, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman Col. John Fortunato, as well as their son.
Just before signing on with Young’s administration, she worked briefly as a public information officer for the company in charge of responding to the 2010 BP oil spill on behalf of Plaquemines Parish. She said she developed a close working relationship in that role with Nungesser, who was Plaquemines Parish president at the time.
Both the Parish Council and Young’s administration valued her writing and video production skills. Young once remarked that Fortunato had taken the parish’s public information office from “The Flintstones” to “The Jetsons.”
Fortunato said it was not lost on her that she was about to go to work for the man who captured the office that her former boss, Young, also sought.
“Politics is just a weird thing,” she said. “I’ve always tried to keep out of politics and just do my job, and I’ve been lucky to do that and maintain friendships.”
— Stacy Head speaks her mind, raises eyebrows —
If an 18-year-old aspiring bartender can’t find work at a conventional bar but is hired quickly at a strip club, does she land the job because of talent or looks?
The latter, according to New Orleans City Councilwoman Stacy Head.
In an eyebrow-raising exchange at a council committee meeting last week, Head showcased her typical sharp-tongued candor with 18-year-old bartender and waitress Cassidy Wall, who asked the council to drop a later-abandoned plan to ban all strip-club employees younger than 21.
Although most local bars won’t hire young bartenders, Wall said, Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club on Bourbon Street welcomed her even though she can’t legally sip the drinks she mixes.
“I wonder why,” Head said with a sarcastic lilt. “They are not hiring the plump girl with the large wart on her nose.”
Wall told Head her comments were offensive.
Head, unperturbed, continued: “The point is you’re beautiful and that’s the reason you get the job there.”
After Wall again protested, saying her skills got her the job, Head and other council members chatted off-microphone before steering the conversation back to the matter at hand.
Head, a lawyer, often is blunt in her comments, a trait that can engender controversy.
Her frankness surfaced in a December kerfuffle with Mayor Mitch Landrieu during the council’s debate on removing four Confederate monuments. During a lengthy exchange that showed how deep their differences run, the two frequently talked over each other, and Head notably uttered a “Thank Jesus” in response to Landrieu’s statement that neither of them would still be in office to handle possible future monument controversies.
Head cast the only vote against removing the monuments.
Head has been unafraid to call colleagues and city officials on the carpet on other key issues. Depending on whom you ask, that makes her either a strong leader or someone who doesn’t play well with others.
— Councilwomen object to anti-abortion signs —
Two New Orleans councilwomen have joined those questioning the city Department of Public Works’ decision to let an anti-abortion group hang pictures of a fetus on St. Charles Avenue lamp posts, with Head using the opportunity to throw Landrieu’s calls to remove Confederate monuments back at him.
In objecting to the banners during a council committee hearing Wednesday, Head used the same language Landrieu has employed in the debate over the monuments, saying the anti-abortion banners are a “nuisance” and “negatively impact my civil liberties as a woman.”
“Since this administration has very strong feelings, they get to decide what is allowed and not allowed in our public places ... since they are the arbiters of those items, I think it’s very important that we understand what the methodology is for placing those signs,” Head said.
She and LaToya Cantrell, who also said the city needs to look at its policies for allowing banners on street lights, joined abortion-rights proponents who have signed online petitions calling for the banners to come down.
The banners were put up on the lamp posts near Nashville Avenue by the Louisiana Right to Life Federation and New Orleans Right to Life, two anti-abortion groups, and feature a picture of a fetus with the message, “Give her life a chance.”
The Landrieu administration said any group can apply for permission to put up banners to raise “community awareness” of an issue as long as the banners don’t directly advocate for a candidate or ballot measure or promote a commercial interest.
Head said the anti-abortion signs are political in nature rather than serving a broader community purpose.
Two online petitions to have the banners taken down had nearly 18,000 signatures by Sunday. One petition, with 17,253 signatures, is by the Louisiana Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. The other, with 655 signatures, was started by the Greater New Orleans Section of the National Council of Jewish Women.
— Thursday to be official Allen Toussaint Day —
The New Orleans City Council has declared Thursday as Allen Toussaint Day in honor of the late musician.
Toussaint, who died in November following a concert in Madrid, was praised for his musical talent and public service, including co-founding New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness, by council members who during Thursday’s council meeting fondly recalled their interactions with the songwriter, composer and musician.
Several of Toussaint’s family members and friends were on hand for the council resolution, which passed unanimously.
Thursday would have been Toussaint’s 78th birthday.
Compiled by Ramon Antonio Vargas, Jessica Williams and Jeff Adelson