A Metairie attorney filed a petition Wednesday with the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office to begin a drive seeking to recall Mike Yenni — the latest blow for the Jefferson Parish president whose administration is entangled in a scandal involving his improper texts to a teenage boy.
Robert Evans III filed the petition by fax at 11:35 a.m., according to his office. In a news release, Evans cited the fact that Yenni “is married yet seeking intimacy from young men" as a reason for the recall petition.
“Mr. Evans believes that Yenni’s recently admitted sexual texting with a 17-year-old young man and other lewd suggestions to the teenager constitute outrageous, immoral and totally unacceptable behavior and that Yenni is unfit to serve in any public office,” he added.
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The release said Yenni’s refusal to heed calls to resign from nearly every other parish official “commands us all to rise together and coordinate this recall for the people of Jefferson and the state of Louisiana.”
The latest officials to call on Yenni to resign were the members of the Gretna City Council, who on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution demanding that the parish president quit. They cited their "grave concerns about his ability to effectively govern."
The recall effort now has 180 days to collect more than 90,000 signatures. That target is equal to one-third of the current number of registered voters in the parish, which as of Tuesday was 270,471.
If the effort gathers enough signatures, an election will be called on whether to expel Yenni from office. It is believed that such an election would be unprecedented for someone holding an office the size of Yenni's, the chief executive of Louisiana's second-most-populous parish.
Yenni released a statement Wednesday reiterating his contention that the sexting allegations against him are a personal matter and that he is still capable of doing his job.
"I will abide by the will of the people," said Yenni's statement, released nearly two weeks after WWL-TV broke the story of his texts. "I have acknowledged my mistake, and I have taken full responsibility. I have also vowed to focus my attention on governing and meeting the demands that I am expected to meet."
In an interview, Evans acknowledged the difficulty of gathering 90,000 valid signatures of registered voters. But he said the prevalence of social media should make such an effort a more viable proposition than it was when the main method of gathering signatures was going around and knocking on doors.
Having twice declared his intention to remain in office, embattled Jefferson Parish Presiden…
"Today, you just need to communicate where you are and what your cause is," Evans said.
Even in the era of social media, the enormity of the task of collecting enough signatures is typically enough to stymie most attempts at a recall. However, the effort described by Evans appears to have more funding and organization than many such efforts, which typically are loosely organized and spearheaded by a handful of volunteers.
Evans said at a news conference Wednesday he is pledging $100,000 of his own money toward the recall, including $2,600 he already has spent purchasing lists from the Secretary of State's Office containing information on every voter in the parish. He also has reached out to organizations that will let the recall organizers set up tables with petitions at their events, though Evans declined to name those groups.
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni on Tuesday voluntarily banned himself from visiting th…
Some, he said, are willing to give the campaign space but do not directly support the recall.
In addition, a website — www.recallyenni.com — will be set up to register volunteers to collect signatures and provide a home for the campaign that will include links to various media reports about the scandal, Evans said.
Aside from efforts to gather signatures at public events, Evans said those who want to sign will be able to contact the campaign to have a volunteer meet them with a copy of the petition.
While nearly every elected official in Jefferson Parish has called for Yenni to step down, Evans said the campaign is not working with or being funded by any of them. Help from those officials — or their campaign organizations — may come in the future if it is determined they don't have a conflict of interest in the effort, he said.
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Acknowledging that many petition efforts run into trouble when signatures are challenged and thrown out, Evans said the campaign would aim to collect 5,000 more signatures than needed.
He said he had been contacted by about 50 people volunteering to help him gather signatures within 40 minutes of issuing a news release about his recall petition.
The petition received by the Secretary of State's Office on Wednesday lists Evans' paralegal, Kenner resident Dianne Bentel, as the vice chairwoman of the effort.
Evans is the son of Bob Evans, who served as chairman of the Jefferson Parish Council from 1980 to 1996. During virtually that entire period, the parish presidency was held by a Yenni — first Joe Yenni, Mike Yenni's grandfather, and then Michael J. "Mike" Yenni, Mike Yenni's uncle.
The current parish president was born Michael Maunoir, but he changed his name to Michael S. "Mike" Yenni in 1998 as he prepared for a career in politics. Mike Yenni has said his legal name now is a tribute to relatives on his mother's side who helped him get through his parents' painful divorce.
Evans used that name change Wednesday as a sign that Yenni is "not who he claims to be."
"Mike Yenni, years ago, was Mike Maunoir. He changed his name to take advantage of the good name of his uncle, Mike Yenni. Then he married and apparently he's not completely heterosexual and apparently is involved with some of the youth. It's a very deep concern," Evans said.
Update, 5:50 p.m., Wednesday: The Gretna City Council's resolution calling for the resignati…
The idea that Yenni could not be trusted was a recurring theme in the news conference.
"Here he is, ... married (for five years), I'm not talking a man who's been married 20 years and making a mistake," Evans said, in a response to a question about whether Yenni's sexuality played a role in his decision to launch the recall effort. "He got married and ... unfortunately he breached his trust with his wife, and it's wrong whether it's a male or female, but in this case it happens to be a male."
Yenni's statement Wednesday did not address Evans' remarks about his character. However, as he's done previously since the scandal erupted, Yenni said, "I have not violated my oath, nor have I abused or misused the power of my office. ... I can hope the people of Jefferson will afford me the opportunity to prove that I will separate my personal challenge from my public responsibility, and that I can rise above this."
Describing himself as a personal injury and commercial lawyer, the younger Evans signed up to run for a seat on the Jefferson Parish School Board in 2010. But Evans quickly dropped out of the race, which was eventually won by Michael Delesdernier, who in turn lost his re-election bid in 2014 to Marion "Coach" Bonura.
Evans said he also has run for seats in the Legislature but that his decision to lead a recall effort against Yenni was not politically driven.
"My goal here is to right a wrong," Evans said. "Voters did not vote for who he actually is."
Reporter Della Hasselle contributed to this report.