Having remained silent for a week about the scandal that has cast a pall over his administration, Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni on Thursday released a short TV ad in which he admitted sending “improper” text messages to a teenager but signaled that he would not resign over the revelation.
Yenni’s pre-taped remarks capped 48 hours of rampant speculation over how the parish leader would address a report by WWL-TV last week that he was under investigation by the FBI for sending sexually explicit texts to a 17-year-old boy.
He skipped a Parish Council meeting on Wednesday, where some residents called for him to step down, and then informed the council a day later that he had left the state to take part in the response to Hurricane Matthew as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, where he serves as a public information officer.
Yenni's statement, which was released by media consultant Greg Buisson and was scheduled to run on local TV stations Thursday evening, did not address the specific allegations raised by WWL last week.
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Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni thinks he can put his sexting scandal behind him with …
The station reported that Yenni, 40, had met the teenager at a high school function while he was mayor of Kenner and later gave him a pair of underwear as a gift and briefly kissed him during an encounter in a mall bathroom. Yenni also suggested group sex and mentioned the possibility of finding him a job, the teen told WWL.
Yenni did, however, acknowledge making a “bad decision.”
"Last summer I was old enough to know better, but I guess I was still young enough to do something stupid," Yenni says in the video message, addressing the camera in the style of a campaign ad. "I chose to send improper texts to a young man. I won't go into details out of respect for the rights and privacy of all parties. I made a bad decision. I regret my actions."
Yenni, who is married and has a young daughter, continues, "I apologize to the families involved and anyone who I embarrassed, especially my own family and the people of Jefferson. Now, I will work everyday to prove that good people can rise from a bad decision. I want to reassure the citizens of Jefferson that I never abused or misused my powers as a public official. And I'm certainly not afraid of the future because I'm smart enough to never repeat the past."
Yenni was asked to comment several times while WWL-TV was working on the story, but he said at the time through a spokesman that he would not address the matter because he hadn't heard from any investigating authority. He also said he felt he hadn't broken any laws.
The response so far from other public officials has been relatively muted, but it’s not clear whether Yenni’s remarks will be enough to assuage the concerns of members of the Parish Council.
The meeting on Wednesday seemed like an obvious time for a reckoning. But Yenni didn't show up, and top aide Keith Conley read a brief statement saying only that Yenni’s presence would have been a distraction.
Some constituents, some of whom brought signs with the word "RESIGN" written in bold red letters, were unappeased, calling for Yenni's job and asking the council to take action.
After the meeting, some council members expressed disappointment Yenni had stayed away, but they reserved judgment in anticipation of a statement on Thursday.
All of which made Yenni’s announcement the next morning that he was deploying with the Naval Reserve the more startling. In a memo to the council, Yenni said he would be gone until Oct. 15.
Notwithstanding Yenni’s taped message, Councilman Chris Roberts said Thursday that the parish president needs to address the allegations “at the absolute earliest possible time.”
Roberts said letting questions linger would only make the situation more of a distraction for the parish. "Many believe it will remain an issue until addressed head-on by those (who) owe this respect to the public we serve," he said.
Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken released a statement saying she appreciates Yenni's "military commitments due to Hurricane Matthew and await(s) his response as promised."
Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni said Thursday that he has left town to assist with rec…
In his opening line of the video, Yenni explains his choice of format. “I am addressing you in this commercial because I didn’t want my words edited,” he says.
Still, Yenni — a married politician in a politically conservative parish with a large Catholic population — is sure to face more questions about his relationship with the teenager involved in the exchange of text messages.
WWL was given copies of the texts from the father of the young man, now a 19-year-old sophomore in college, but did not quote directly from them.
Roberts said a group of council members was working on a formal, joint statement in response to Yenni’s remarks, but it was not ready by press time. Asked just after 6:30 p.m. if Yenni’s statement fell short of what the members expected, Roberts replied, "That is being determined now.”
The FBI has been looking into allegations that Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni sent se…